Aston Villa 0 Manchester City 1

This season cannot end soon enough for Aston Villa. To the frustration of manager David O'Leary, not to mention Villa Park's lowest crowd of the season, it isn't over yet.

It would take two thumping Birmingham City wins and two more Villa defeats, for the unthinkable to happen but, for the record, Villa's Premiership safety is not yet officially secured.

The only thing that was secured was the status of this Villa team as their worst since the Premiership began 13 years ago. O'Leary's men can now only equal the previous lowest points total of 45, set by Graham Taylor's team of three years ago.

Predictably, last night's damage was done by Darius Vassell. In his time at Villa, Vassell scored plenty of better goals than last night's scruffy effort but he has now netted four times this season against his old club.

And to add to Villa's woes, a perfectly good Kevin Phillips goal in the last minute was wrongly disallowed for offside. Yet that would also have been rough luck on City, who were worth their third victory over Villa this season.

"Are they our jinx side?

Yes," said O'Leary. "I think you could say that. I'll let everybody watch on TV to judge just how onside Kevin Phillips was and the fact that Darius scored for them just about summed up our night."

The only thing at stake, apart from that one Villa point needed to reduce the Premiership's relegation tussle to a three-horse race, was the private battle for 14th place between Villa, City and Fulham. And this was a game that, for the most part, lived up to such an unmemorable billing.

Villa were trying out a new system of only three at the back, with the two full backs pushed on and James Milner offered a new floating role behind the front two and the readjustment did inspire one or two decent early moments.

Gareth Barry's incisive through-ball fed in Milan Baros, only for City goal-keeper David James to block and from an excellent right-wing cross from Barry, skipper Olof Mellberg so nearly marked his return with a goal. But, after thundering in a powerful header, James saved well.

City's best effort was from the head of Micah Richards but this was not as fearsome as the bullet header with which the teenage City defender broke Villa hearts in the last minute of the dramatic FA Cup fifth-round tie in January. This one, from Joey Barton's corner, he drilled over the bar.

It did not immediately look like getting a whole lot better after the break until the spark provided by the introduction of Gabriel Agbonlahor. He came on for the final half-hour in place of the unhappy Baros.

"I don't think any player's happy at being taken off," explained O'Leary. "But he wasn't playing very well, simple as that."

Almost immediately, Agbonlahor's injection of pace and penetration got both the Villa team and the crowd going.

One burst down the left saw him lob over a stranded James, but there was scarcely anybody to aim for in the box with his cross. Then he twice tested the returning former Villa goalkeeper with shots, which both brought decent saves from James.

By contrast, City had looked a better bet to break the deadlock and, after going close when Albert Riera brought a fine one-hand block out of Thomas Sorensen with a fierce left-foot shot, they finally got their breakthrough.

Vassell had been so irrelevant all night that the crowd had not even bothered to boo him but, when he finally and inevitably was handed a half-chance, it went in.

David Sommeil fed Claudio Reyna from the right, the American slipped the ball on to Vassell and the former England striker's quick turn and scuffed left-foot shot was good enough to fox Mellberg and beat the motionless Sorensen.

Villa had two decent chances to level but, from Milner's cross and Gary Cahill's touch-on, Agbonlahor looped his header over and then came that moment of injury-time controversy when Phillips' goal was chalked off.

But, in front of Villa Park's lowest league crowd in more than two years, it did not stop O'Leary's men - not to mention the man himself - leaving the field to a resounding chorus of boos.