Aston Villa manager David O'Leary's main Christmas wish was for an upward turn in his team's 'fortunes'.

After an eight-point haul from their four matches over the festive period, the Villa boss ought to have no cause for complaint about the part luck has played.

The blatant handball that Milan Baros got away with on Boxing Day to get this claret and blue Christmas off to a merry start was Villa's chief slice of good fortune.

But they got away with another at The Hawthorns yesterday thanks to the late Baros penalty that won them three away points.

Ironically, there were no West Bromwich Albion moans at the handball decision itself against Villa old boy Steve Watson, only five minutes after he had fired the Baggies back into the contest with an equaliser.

What really upset Albion was the apparent demonstration of 'double standards' from referee Rob Styles.

He allowed Gareth Barry to take his free kick quickly on the edge of the Albion penalty area, a pleasure twice earlier denied to the home side in similar incidents.

Although it appeared a case of accidental handball when Barry's shot struck Watson on the right arm, Baros was allowed the chance to convert the penalty.

To be fair to Villa, they could easily have won by the sort of scoreline Baros (twice part of big Liverpool wins here in the past) is more used to on visits to The Hawthorns.

But Albion, having at last managed to get a toehold in the contest, suffered a major disappointment quickly. Although it is 20 years since Villa last lost here, Albion would at least hoped to have continued Villa's run of away draws.

Albion had made a bright start to the 151st competitive meeting between two of the Midlands' oldest rivals and fellow founder members of the Football League.

African aces Diomansy Kamara and Kanu [2014] who was recalled after being allowed the afternoon off against Liverpool [2014] opened up the Villa defence along the right with a well-worked onetwo. It might have brought reward had Jonathan Greening not received it on the wrong foot when he slid in at the far post to fire wide.

Kanu then had a mazy run stopped only by a solid block by Mark Delaney.

But the contest seemed to turn from the comic, almost surreal, moment when one of Villa's substitutes Eric Djemba-Djemba collided with one of the linesmen and left the latter flat on his back on the touchline just in front of the dug-outs.

It all seemed to have an uplifting effect on the visitors who, being galvanised by the return of Olof Mellberg at the back, had stepped up a gear to become the force in the game.

James Milner, a constant thorn playing on the unfamiliar left flank, drilled a hole in the Albion defence to send Baros and Moore racing clear.

It took a big challenge by Curtis Davies, that left Baros limping, to clear the danger.

Albion were luckier to survive when Baros went haring through again, this time in a three-against-two situation.

He possibly delayed his pass too long to Davis on his right, the cross was a touch more hurried than it might have been and an offbalanced Luke Moore could only find the bar with a left-foot volley on the run which was harder than it looked.

The lively Milner then shot just wide, Gavin McCann had a superb left-foot volley tipped over. From a Milner corner, Baros and Eirik Bakke were thwarted in their attempts to shoot on the turn.

Just before half time, Delaney contrived the worst miss of all.

The man who had scored only one goal for Villa in six years until Boxing Day was presented with a chance three yards out after Mellberg's far-post header had caused havoc from another Milner corner.

But Delaney produced the finish of a man who might take another six years to score again, ballooning the ball over the bar.

Villa old boy Watson then combined with Kamara to open up Villa, only to be denied by Delaney's outstretched leg.

But there was only one team who had cause to wonder why they were not already in front. And the visitors took less than minutes to put that right after the break.

Baros latched on to Clement's error and Moore fed Milner, allowing the winger to nip into the box to beat Martin Albrechtsen with ease.

From his neat left-foot chip to the far post, Davis ran in unattended to head home.

Albion responded well. a nervous fumble by Villa Keeper Stuart Taylor, in for virus-hit Thomas Sorensen, offered hope, but his alert save foiled Greening's corner.

Villa survived a hand-ball appeal when the ball struck Aaron Hughes on the chest as the defender put behind a Greening cross inside his six-yard area.

Taylor made a dog's dinner of keeping out a Kamara header, failing to hold on at his near post.

Albion's breakthrough came when McCann, already cautioned, fouled. Greening slung over the free kick and Taylor never got there as Watson won the challenge. Hughes headed clear but the ball fell to Watson who shot home through a crowded six-yard area. Then Watson's arm stopped that Barry free kick, Tomasz Kuszczak dived to his right and Baros coolly clipped his penalty down the middle.

Juan Pablo Angel scuffed his near-post shot after being fed by fellow substitute Craig Gardner's low cross. Baros fired over after more crafty footwork by Milner. Carter's left-footer - Albion's last hope of getting anything from a contest that deservedly went to Villa - curled just over.