LONDON - Aston Villa took full advantage of the absence of the other Premier League high-fliers on Saturday, winning 1-0 at West Ham United to climb to third. A deflected James Milner shot 12 minutes from time gave Villa 34 points from 18 games and pushed them above Manchester United (32). Liverpool, who lead on 38 points, visit Arsenal (fifth on 30) on Sunday while second-placed Chelsea (37) travel to Everton on Monday night. Earlier, Sam Allardyce got off to a flying start as manager of Blackburn Rovers when his new club beat Stoke City 3-0 to claim only their second home victory of the season. Bolton Wanderers scored twice in the first three minutes en route to a 2-1 home win over Portsmouth while Fulham beat Middlesbrough 3-0. Sunderland hit four for the second successive game and climbed out of the relegation zone when they triumphed 4-1 at Hull City. In the evening game at Upton Park, Villa had the best of the first half but were on the defensive for most of the second as the hosts wasted several good chances. The game seemed to be heading for a draw until Milner's speculative cross-shot hit West Ham defender Lucas Neill and looped over keeper Robert Green. The own goal secured Villa's sixth away win of the season and condemned West Ham to their fifth home defeat. "I'm delighted to be third," Villa manager Martin O'Neill told the BBC. "We created quite a number of chances on the break in the first half but the game was really open and could have gone either way. "We got a bit lucky with the goal at a time when West Ham were pressing us." SUCCESS-STARVED Dire home form was a problem for Blackburn too and contributed to the sacking of Paul Ince after only three wins in 17 games. The success-starved fans had seen only one win and five goals for Rovers at home before Saturday but, despite Stoke having most of the early play, within 27 minutes that goal tally had reached eight with two from Benni McCarthy, including a penalty, and one for Jason Roberts. Blackburn should have had more goals in the second half, though there were no complaints from the new boss. "I've only had a couple of days with the lads and tried to give a few little pointers so I have made a small contribution but the big contribution came from the players," Allardyce told Sky Sports News. "We had to withstand quite a bombardment early on but quality counted today. I was pleased with the quality we showed in and around the box. "Then in the second half we had to defend again for 10 or 15 minutes or so."
20 December 2008
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