Aston Villa assistant manager Roy Aitken hailed his team's reshuffled back four as the cornerstone of their slender victory over Portsmouth.
The makeshift centre-half partnership of Aaron Hughes and Liam Ridgewell helped keep a clean sheet while manager David O'Leary got away with a double gamble at full-back.
Wilfred Bouma get through his first 90 minutes in just over two months without the need for a warm-up in the reserves. Although Jlloyd Samuel, who has been suffering with a virus, had to come off after only 23 minutes, Ulises De La Cruz came on to make a solid first appearance in five months.
Given the absence of suspended skip-per Olof Mellberg, season-long absentee Martin Laursen and Mark Delaney,the defence was more patched-up than O'Leary had been prepared to admit. But Aitken was well pleased with how Villa's adaptable players knitted together.
He said: "Considering it was a makeshift back four and the first time they've played together as a group, we were pretty resolute in our performance and solid at the back.
"Aaron Hughes was a doubt all week with his calf strain but he did not let us down. And Liam Ridgewell was excellent alongside him. They had a good partner-ship, and the goalkeeper played well, so that gave us a good base. Then, at fullback, we recalled Freddie Bouma after a long lay-off and he did well."
After completing 90 minutes for only the ninth time since his August move from PSV Eindhoven, Bouma said: "Having been out since December 28, it was just great to play again. To play the 90 minutes and for us to win, too, made it even better. In the beginning, when I got this knee injury, I didn't know exactly what it was and I was a bit frightened as I was getting pain and the pain would not go away.
"We tried everything but now it's over and I'm playing again. And, after having a good run of seven games in a row in November and December and found the form I know I'm capable of, that's the standard I want to keep up."
Aitken said: "Having Freddie back after injury was excellent as it enabled us to switch Jlloyd Samuel to right-back, even though he's been struggling all week. Jlloyd had a virus on Thursday and Friday and did well to start but it just got too much for him and that's why we made the change. But Uli came on and did a good job."
De La Cruz had been one of several Villa players on midweek international duty, having captained Ecuador in their 1-0 defeat in Holland. Another of them, Milan Baros, who returned from duty with the Czech Republic only on Friday morning, got the all-important goal before going off from being kneed in the back. But Aitken was pleased with all of Villa's attacking players.
He said: "The difference was that we had the quality in important areas - the delivery from the flanks by Gareth Barry and James Milner, and the partnership between Kevin Phillips and Milan Baros."