Newcastle United 0 Aston Villa 3

Lee Bowyer's disgraceful fight with Kieron Dyer might have captivated the nation, but the rumpus is in danger of overshadowing Aston Villa's best display of the season.

After another loss to archrivals Birmingham City in their previous Premiership match, no-one gave Villa any hope at St James' Park.

With the hosts' talismanic forward, former England hero Alan Shearer, announcing he had extended by a year his playing career - due to finish next month - most people expected a comfortable home victory, with Shearer among the goals.

He is, after all, chasing Jackie Milburn's record of 200 goals for Newcastle United. Shearer is just nine short of that target and, while he has denied it as his motive for staying on, it is thought he would dearly like to surpass the 200 this season.

However the eager Newcastle public had not counted on David O'Leary's side putting up such stiff opposition and the visitors deservedly triumphed.

"I believe the best team by a mile won," said the Villa manager.

"It is a great result and I'm delighted, from my own point of view, to shut up a few of the plonkers who have criticised me, the club or the team recently."

O'Leary declined to elaborate as to who has got his back up in recent weeks, but it is believed his comments were directed towards a couple of television pundits and a few Villa supporters.

Even the most negative Villa fans would have had little to complain about on Saturday, though.

Granted, O'Leary's team were fortunate not to concede at least one penalty as Olof Mellberg and JLloyd Samuel were both guilty of handball in the visitors' area.

But after taking a fifthminute lead through Juan Pablo Angel's eighth goal of the campaign, a fierce rightfoot finish, Villa showed considerable character to retain and then increase their advantage.

And, just as at Bolton and Portsmouth - Villa's only other away wins this term in the Premiership - the whole side performed well.

Goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen, whose latest blunder cost Villa dearly at Blues recently, thoroughly vindicated O'Leary's decision to stick with the Dane.

Assured throughout, he made several good saves early on when Newcastle fashioned a glut of chances.

Villa withstood everything the hosts could muster and they even coped with the loss of captain Olof Mellberg at half-time to a knee injury.

Mellberg's replacement, Liam Ridgewell, performed admirably in his absence - but it was Martin Laursen and Samuel at the back who were superb.

Laursen kept Shearer noticeably quiet and was totally dominant in the air, while Samuel appeared back to his best.

The left-back has struggled to recapture his impressive form from last season this term, due to a combination of a nagging shoulder injury and a loss of confidence.

But the ex-England Under-21 international excelled at Newcastle, where young midfielder Steven Davis also illustrated his enormous potential with another competent performance.

It was Davis who swung in an excellent delivery from the right flank for Angel to rifle home and Villa were unfortunate not to double their lead when Gareth Barry hit the post.

The visitors could have been forgiven for thinking that was their best opportunity to close out the game, but Angel missed another excellent chance when clean through after the break.

The match then swung decisively in Villa's favour in the 73rd minute when Darius Vassell robbed Nicky Butt of possession and rounded Shay Given in the Newcastle goal before defender Steven Taylor stopped his shot on the line with his hand.

Referee Barry Knight rightly sent off Taylor and Barry converted the spot-kick with a left-foot finish.

He scored a second penalty seven minutes later after Vassell was body-checked by Stephen Carr, although replays later showed the incident to have occurred just outside the box.

By this time, Newcastle were in such disarray that Bowyer and Dyer came to blows and were sent off for fighting each other.

Villa now had a three-man advantage for the last eight minutes of the game, but seemed so stunned that they simply chose to retain possession, rather than push on in search of more goals and risk antagonising Newcastle further.

Nevertheless, O'Leary was delighted afterwards and highlighted the return from injury of Laursen, Vassell and Angel as a vital factor in his side's victory.

He added: "When we get those three people back, we are obviously going to be a better team. We are not a bad little side if I can have all my players fit, but we have nothing to underpin that.

"Having the two forwards and centre-half back made a huge difference. Last year, we were really lucky because we had Angel and Vassell fit for the whole time and the two centre-backs, too.

"Now, if we can equal our sixth-place finish from last season, I think it would be an unbelievable achievement for the club because what we did last season was excellent."

Scorers: Angel (5), Barry (73, 80).

NEWCASTLE UNITED (4-4-2): Given, Carr, Boumsong, Andrew O'Brien (Taylor, 52), Hughes, Jenas (Ameobi, 63), Butt, Bowyer, Robert (Faye, 84), Shearer, Dyer. Subs: Harper, Milner.

ASTON VILLA (4-4-2): Sorensen, Delaney, Mellberg (Ridgewell, 45), Laursen, Samuel, Hendrie (Solano, 84), Davis, Hitzlsperger, Barry, Angel (Cole, 88), Vassell. Subs: Postma, Berson.

Referee: B Knight (Kent). Bookings: Villa: Hitzlsperger, Mellberg (fouls); Newcastle: Carr (foul).

Sendings-off: Newcastle - Taylor ( deliberate handball) Bowyer, Dyer (violent conduct).

Attendance: 53,306. Villa man of the match: Martin Laursen - a giant at the back.