Aston Villa 2 Tottenham Hotspur 1

Aston Villa moved up to sixth in the Premier League on goal difference after a sterling win over fellow European contenders Tottenham Hotspur but only after pulling off yet another great comeback.

Villa once again threw away their lead but showed a great fighting spirit to battle back into the match with both of their goals in this victory coming not from their front pairing of Gabriel Agbonlahor and Luke Moore but from defenders and via set-pieces.

Martin O'Neill's side have scored 18 of their 37 goals this season from set-pieces - either corners or free kicks - the most in the Premier League.

While Agbonlahor remains the club's top striker with seven goals, he has centre-back Martin Laursen hot on his heels after the Danish international headed home the winner in the 84th minute - his fifth strike this season.

Villa had started in front of another sell-out crowd. O'Neill made two changes, Stiliyan Petrov returning for Shaun Maloney and Moore replacing John Carew who has a twisted knee.

Curtis Davies kept his place in the back four ahead of Zat Knight who was back from suspension while Spurs, rejuvenated under Juande Ramos, made five changes with Pascale Chimbonda out through illness and Ledley King left out. Robbie Keane started on the bench with Dimitar Berbatov and Jermain Defoe getting the nod upfront.

From the off Villa looked like their New Year resolution was to start strongly after both teams had observed a minute's applause in memory of Phil O'Donnell, the Motherwell captain who collapsed and died at the weekend.

In the fifth minute Agbonlahor's pace was the undoing of the Spurs defence and he put through Luke Moore who controlled the ball on the turn to fire at Paul Robinson's goal but his shot was just wide.

Spurs then had half a chance as Kevin-Prince Boateng linked up in a neat one-two with Aaron Lennon who in turn flicked the ball back to him only for Nigel Reo-Coker to mop up with a timely challenge.

Laursen then cleared from Berbatov in the 15th minute before the Great Dane himself had a great chance to open Villa's account. Laursen blasted the ball over the bar from fewer than ten yards when it would have been easier to score.

Petrov himself then skied the ball into the North Stand after picking up on a Moore cross as Villa battled to dominate.

When Olof Mellberg sent the ball high into the stand on 29 minutes it looked as though the opener would never come. Berbatov then put Lennon through but Scott Carson - eager to show why he and not Robinson is England's first-choice goalkeeper - came out bravely to scoop the ball up in the 34th minute.

Three minutes later Laursen won a header and fed it through to Gareth Barry who found Petrov unmarked on his right. The Bulgarian international fired a low drive straight at the Spurs goal but Robinson smothered it.

Villa finally got the breakthrough they deserved on 40 minutes when Ashley Young was fouled by Boateng. From the resulting free kick Young whipped the ball into penalty area for a typical Villa set-piece and Mellberg headed it home.

Carson made an emphatic save from Berbatov and Agbonlahor could have made it 2-0 but his searing solo run ended when he was blocked out by Zokora.

In the second half Villa's set-pieces again threatened when Young swung a swirling free kick just wide of Robinson's upright in the 47th minute and then substitute Tom Huddlestone should have done better after Laursen's cleared header fell only as far as Lennon.

Moore forced Dawson to block his effort across the face of goal before Laursen headed the ball down to Moore but the striker's header flew over the crossbar.

Ramos brought Keane into the fray for Aaron Lennon on 53 minutes and two minutes later introduced Jamie O'Hara for Younes Kaboul.

Keane found Jermaine Jenas unmarked. He found O'Hara who forced a slip in the Villa defence to almost snatch a 65th-minute equaliser.

Moore latched on to a poor clearance from the Spurs keeper but his shot veered into Holte End stand. The same player missed another gilt-edged chance after Barry had played a one-two with Petrov. He drilled the ball back against the face of goal but Moore's toe-poke rolled just wide.

Craig Gardner replaced Moore while super sub Shaun Maloney was introduced for Wilfred Bouma but neither could prevent Spurs getting back into the game when Keane seized on a Barry half-clearance to set up Defoe.

The England striker's scissor-kick volley rattled past Carson to put the visitors back in the game. 1-1. But Villa were back on top four minutes later after the impressive Laursen climbed highest to head in Barry's corner.

O'Neill delighted with Villa's set-piece prowess

Villa manager Martin O'Neill was full of praise for his side as they once again showed their ability to convert set-pieces.

Villa have scored from more free kicks and corners than any other side in the Premier League this season, putting away 18 goals from set plays.

Defender Martin Laursen made major contributions at both ends and headed Villa's winner from a Gareth Barry corner in the 84th minute.

O'Neill said: "The three points today were colossal for us. I was concerned about the energy levels because we have had some big, big games recently at Chelsea and up at Wigan where we played on a very, very heavy pitch.

"And then we have done this today. In the first half, I thought we dominated but we knew Tottenham would come back. Martin Laursen was fantastic and, while he scored the winning goal, his whole performance was top drawer."

Laursen said: "I was surprised to score with my head but I was just delighted to score as I missed an easy chance in the first half. It is important for us that we are dangerous in setpieces. They are a big part of modern football and it is good if defenders can help.

"It has been a while [since the 2-0 win over Derby on November 3] but I am a bit disappointed that we did not keep a clean sheet."

Laursen praised Curtis Davies for another solid performance in his second successive start. "He is a good player but then we all could see in training what a good player he was," he said.