Premier League Digest: Spirited Villa see things their own way (By Betfair Blog)

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<strong>Ralph Ellis of Betfair.com looks back on a weekend of Premier League action that underlined the importance of belief in the game.</strong>

Fans and professional footballers see games in a completely different way. How else could <strong>Martin Laursen</strong> and <strong>Ashley Young</strong> go on the telly minutes after Aston Villa's amazing 3-2 win at Everton and insist they deserved the three points? And they both kept a straight face while they said it - as did Martin O'Neill a few moments later. Meanwhile, on the coaches going back down the M6, <strong>claret and blue supporters would have been laughing their heads off</strong>.

Villa might have dominated the first 34 seconds and the last 34 too, but for the rest of the game they got absolutely battered. Yet there lies the difference between the people who play the game for a living and the rest of us. They are brought through on the idea that <strong>battling and defending for your lives has just as much merit as playing beautiful football</strong> - and that you keep going until the last whistle blows whatever the score. When you keep to those standards you deserve everything you get.

Young's two goals owed everything to the idea that you don't give up. For the first he was already moving in the hope that <strong>Phil Jagielka would underhit a back pass </strong>before the hapless defender did exactly that - for the second he was alive to what was going on while an ordinary player, or team for that matter, would still have been moping about conceding a 93rd minute equaliser.

And that's another key to the reason why Villa have shortened to [1.3] for a place in the top six this morning and are [4.1] to break into the top four. The spirit that convinced their players they deserved the win will be key to the rest of the season. Put simply, good teams battle out the 90 minutes, the others talk about how unlucky they were.

<strong>There was never any doubt in the minds of Manchester United's players</strong>, for instance, that they would find the winning goal from somewhere against Sunderland on Saturday night. The tempo was raised, and raised some more, and why was centre half <strong>Nemanja Vidic </strong>the man on hand to tap in a rebound? Because he believed it would happen if he went forward to make it do so. It's why United remain [3.2] second favourites for the title even though they are six points behind leaders Liverpool.

The [5.4] against the Anfield side staying there still looks generous, mind. <strong>Steven Gerrard </strong>underlined that they are capable of going the distance - and battling out against pressure - by wrapping up a 3-1 win at Blackburn in the final seconds of the game.

And what about <strong>Hull</strong>, still clinging on to sixth place? They are now [7.8] to extend their fairytale arrival in the top flight by remaining there through until May and proved the strength of their own spirit against Middlesbrough. Their response when Tuncay scored with 11 minutes left was instant, and while there might have been some debate over David Wheater's foul that gave <strong>Marlon King</strong> the winner from the penalty spot, nobody in Hull's dressing room will tell you it wasn't deserved. They battled it out, you see.

I've been saying all season that <strong>Stoke can survive </strong>and there was more evidence for the strength of character of Tony Pulis's side. Again it might have taken them to the 90th minute to dig out an equaliser after being 2-0 down at half time, but a proper relegation team would have folded long before then and lost by five or six. Stoke are now [1.89] to get relegated and if you lay that you'll at least get a run for your money.

<strong>So what of the teams on the wrong end of those dramas?</strong> Let's start with <strong>Blackburn </strong>where Paul Ince spoke enthusiastically about the spirit his team had showed and how he needs more time. It's easy for players to produce a bit more when they wake up to headlines saying the manager's about to go and are playing Liverpool at home. Effort or not, they still lost, and let's see if the same bravery is still there against Wigan and Stoke in the next fortnight.

<strong>Blackburn at [3.6] to go down is a value price because Ince looks to have lost his dressing room</strong>.

Sunderland are the same price, and their hopes depend on finding the right replacement fairly quickly. But<strong> Newcastle, who are [6.4] for the drop, remain in serious trouble</strong>. Joe Kinnear has talked a great game about his achievements since taking over, but the facts say he's taken only 12 points from 10 games and is more likely to lose a top player like <strong>Michael Owen</strong> in the January window than to bring anybody decent back in.

At least<strong> West Brom</strong> are leaving everybody else just two places to avoid. Again they couldn't defend well enough to protect a lead against Portsmouth yesterday. <strong>Peter Crouch</strong>, incidentally, is [12.0] to finish the season as the top English goalscorer yet after scoring at The Hawthorns is on the same total of seven as his team mate and [3.7] favourite <strong>Jermain Defoe</strong>. That's as good a reason as any to see value in Pompey at [6.8] a top six finish.

One thing does look certain. <strong>The contests at both ends of the table are going to go right to the last minute</strong>.
 

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