LONDON, March 4- Christian Benteke scored a nerveless stoppage-time penalty as Aston Villa edged West Bromwich Albion 2-1 on Tuesday to earn new manager Tim Sherwood a precious first Premier League victory.
The Belgian striker’s goal gave Villa their first league win since December 7, shooting the club three points clear of the relegation zone and ending a run of seven consecutive defeats.
Sherwood, who succeeded the sacked Paul Lambert last month, celebrated jubilantly at the final whistle after what could prove a turning point in his bid to prevent Villa succumbing to a first relegation in 28 years.
“We have conceded late against Stoke (in a 2-1 loss on February 21) and it is a real body blow, but to score one late is an excellent feeling and I thought it was thoroughly deserved,” Sherwood said.
“We are improving every game and we are still alive and kicking. It’s a massive football club and it is at the wrong end of the table.
“We hadn’t won in 12 Premier League games and had to buck that trend. I think we deserved the three points, and onwards and upwards.”
Gabriel Agbonlahor put the hosts in front in the 15th minute at Villa Park, running onto Benteke’s flick-on and sliding the ball past Ben Foster.
Foster had previously almost allowed a tame shot from Agbonlahor to squirm beneath him and over the line, while Joleon Lescott was forced to clear off the line from Agbonlahor and Villa midfielder Fabian Delph hit the post in first-half stoppage time.
West Brom equalised in the 66th minute when Chris Brunt’s deep right-wing corner was headed back across goal by Lescott and Saido Berahino nodded in his 18th goal of the season.
But Villa snatched victory in the 94th minute, with Benteke rolling home from 12 yards after a moment to forget for Foster, who spilled a loose ball and then wiped out Matthew Lowton as he tried to retrieve it.
Villa now sit three points above third-bottom Queens Park Rangers, having played two games more, while Tony Pulis’s West Brom remain 13th.
In a quirk of fate, the teams resume hostilities at Villa Park on Saturday in the FA Cup quarter-finals.
– Poyet and Bruce clash –
Elsewhere, Southampton revitalised their faltering push for a Champions League place by beating Crystal Palace 1-0 to climb to fifth place in the table, a point below the top four.
Sadio Mane settled the game in the 83rd minute, chipping home after visiting goalkeeper Julian Speroni failed to gather a cross from substitute James Ward-Prowse.
The Senegalese forward’s goal ended a run of three league games without victory for Ronald Koeman’s side.
Meanwhile, Sunderland manager Gus Poyet was sent to the stands as his team drew 1-1 at Hull City.
The Uruguayan was given his marching orders for protesting after Jack Rodwell was booked for diving and became involved in an angry exchange with Hull manager Steve Bruce before leaving the touchline.
By then Dame N’Doye had put Hull ahead with a 15th-minute back-heel, but Rodwell earned Sunderland a share of the spoils in the 77th minute when he bundled in a cross from Patrick van Aanholt.
It left Sunderland four points above the bottom three in 16th place, a point below Hull.
“If that is a bad image for football I am sorry, but I don’t think it’s something to worry about,” said Poyet.
Bruce played down his clash with Poyet, saying: “These things happen in the heat of the moment — grown men acting like a couple of children.
“Let’s go and have a glass of red.”