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A Jermain Defoe strike 11 minutes from time was not enough to result in us leaving Villa Park with any reward as the New Year was seen in with a 2-1 defeat.

A Jermain Defoe strike 11 minutes from time was not enough to result in us leaving Villa Park with any reward as the New Year was seen in with a 2-1 defeat.It looked like we were back in it and seeking maximum points when Defoe's smart finish levelled Olaf Mellberg's headed finish late in the first half. But another set piece late in the game came at a hefty cost and it was Martin Laursen who sent the home fans away happy.

Villa should have grabbed the lead in the fifth minute, a positive passage of play leading to a Stiliyan Petrov cross being struck on the turn by Luke Moore - the young striker firing wide with the goal at his mercy.

An Ashley Young free-kick later caused momentary concern when it cleared air bourne heads and required Paul Robinson to stoop and divert, with Jermaine Jenas applying the more forceful clearance. Villa were the livlier attacking outfit in the opening third of the first period, looking sprightly going forward with the pace of messrs Young, Agbonlahor and Moore the principal threat.

There was another gilt-edged opportunity for the home side on 24 minutes when a Petrov cross to the near post was sent off course by a Younes Kaboul intervention, but the ball ran loose in front of the goal and rolled into the feet of Laursen who, like Moore before him, could not hit the target and this time the effort went blazing over the crossbar.

If this was a boxing contest, Villa would have been well ahead on points approaching the half hour mark, with us a little on the ropes. They were struggling to land the decisive blow, however, while we were struggling to come up with a counter punch.

Jenas attempted to create a spark with a threaded throughball in the path of Aaron Lennon, but goalkeeper Scott Carson was quick to spot the danger before, at the other end, Robinson foiled Petrov's low drive on goal.

Villa did snatch the lead five minutes before the break when Kevin Prince Boateng needlessly gave away a free-kick near the top left corner of the penalty area. Young flighted in his set piece, Mellberg escaped the attentions of the German and rose unchallenged to head past a stranded Robinson.

Dimitar Berbatov could have levelled moments later but smashed straight at Carson when an opportunity presented itself.

Tom Huddlestone was drafted in for the second half, replacing Boateng and he was quickly in the action - drilling a headed clearance back from some 25 yards, albeit some way wide. There was further change eight minutes in when Robbie Keane took over from Lennon and then Kaboul was withdrawn for Jamie O'Hara.

Again Juande Ramos adopted a three at the back system, with Jenas and O'Hara occupying wide midfield positions.

O'Hara had a shooting chance shortly after coming on, latching onto a Jenas cross that somehow evaded the watching defenders. There was definitely a renewed purpose about the side, but it was Villa who should have scored next when Petrov's work and cross ball was squandered by Moore when a second looked on the cards.

Keane had half a penalty shout after tangling with with Curtis Davies and Laursen inside the area after Berbatov worked the ball in from the left, with Malbranque eventually shooting wide.

Parity was restored on 79 minutes when, after industry from Keane, a Dawson chip forward was headed away but Berbatov blocked the clearance and the ball was pounced on by Defoe, who athletically fired past Carson.

Joy was relatively short-lived and again it was a set piece that proved our undoing. A Barry corner swung in from the left was met by the head of the unmarked Laursen and the net at the Holte End of Villa Park was quickly shaking.

This game was a tough one to get back into in the first instance - doing it again with just ten minutes left on the clock was just too tall an order.