Aston Villa 1 Portsmouth 0

Milan Baros knows better than most, after his experience in Istanbul with Liverpool last May, that nothing is ever certain in football.

But Aston Villa fans can surely now feel fairly assured that Baros's tenth goal of the season will prove enough to secure Premiership football again next season.

This was a game so unmemorable that neither manager had the heart to talk about it afterwards. It perhaps said more about dreadful Portsmouth being destined for the drop than Villa's own shortcomings but it did at least leave David O'Leary's men on 34 points - the mark that was good enough for West Bromwich Albion last season, even if only on goal difference.

And it is hard to imagine, given their solid but unspectacular away form and their comparatively easy run-in at home, that Villa will not have the wit to go on and collect the last few points needed over the final ten games to reach the acknowledged 40-point safety barrier.

Even with bottom club Sunderland due at Villa Park on the season's final day, it's hard to imagine Villa meeting any team worse than Harry Redknapp's Portsmouth.

Even in a league as poor as the Premiership, where the only excitement is generated by the separate scraps to earn European football and avoid the last ticket to the Championship, Pompey were terrible.

No wonder Redknapp's expensively reassembled ragbag were locked in the visitors' dressing room for an hour following this ninth consecutive away defeat for a frank exchange of views.

Redknapp did flirt briefly with the TV cameras before dodging his post-match duties with the written press by sending skipper Gary O'Neil to face the music.

By contrast, despite Villa having claimed their fourth home league win of the season, manager David O'Leary declined any contact with the media.

Admittedly, he did send along his affable assistant Roy Aitken, who is a nice enough bloke and a better talker than his boss but, in all honesty, does anyone really want to read what Roy Aitken thinks?

O'Leary's name is the one on the boss's door, his initials are on the boss's tracksuit, it's his face that appears in the programme next to the word: 'Manager'.

On frustrating, forgettable, afternoons like this when Villa Park is only two-thirds full, the football is generally poor and it takes a collective defensive howler to settle the outcome, O'Leary's uninspired side again turned in a performance that left a lot of questions.

Admittedly, ever since it was discovered that skipper Olof Mellberg would miss this game through suspension, O'Leary had been pointing out that Villa might have a mix-and-match look at the back.

Without his two first-choice centre-halves, he lost another able stand-in with the latest absence through injury of the unsettled Mark Delaney. But he was still able to switch across Northern Ireland's Aaron Hughes, the right back who plays centre-half for his country and helped snuff out Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen in Belfast six months ago.

To the surprise of all those told by O'Leary that he would be starting his comeback, after two months out with injury, in tomorrow night's reserve game against Leeds United, Wilfred Bouma made a surprise recall at left-back.

If Villa weren't quite as their manager would have liked defensively, they were at full strength in midfield and, although O'Leary insists he does not actually have a favourite strike-pair, most in the ground would also have plumped for the artful Kevin Phillips to partner Baros.

The main disappointment, given the way he performed overall, was that it was not Phillips who provided the game's headline-making moment.

Villa won 16 corners, but it was from a James Milner free-kick, harshly given for Andy Griffin's collision with Gareth Barry, that they went in front.

Redknapp watched in horror as his defence somehow contrived to ignore Baros, allowing him to steal in unmarked at the far post.

He did at least take this chance well, heading confidently back across goal beyond the exposed Dean Kiely but it was always Phillips, recalled at the expense of Juan Pablo Angel, who looked Villa's best bet.

One moment of pure class in the first half was worth the admission alone. A quick break from a Pompey corner saw Gareth Barry flight a long ball into Phillips' path; he brought it down with one touch, waited for Kiely to advance, then flicked over him a cute lob that clipped the right-hand post.

Had it gone in, it would have won any goal-of-the-season contest. Instead, just 90 seconds later, Villa went ahead with a goal that will have Redknapp waking up in a cold sweat for weeks.

Kiely also denied Phillips when set up by Barry, who was just wide with an ambitious overhead kick from the rebound. And Milner, without a goal since mid-September, was twice close with efforts that flew past either upright.

Wretched though Pompey were, they did at least test Thomas Sorensen. The big Dane made two first-half saves from O'Neil, another at the start of the second and needed to be alert at the death to deny the hardworking Lomano Tresor Lua Lua.