Aston Villa's captain Ron Vlaar gestures to the fans after their win against Reading during their English Premier League soccer match at The Madejski Stadium, Reading, southern England

Crucial win sees Aston Villa move out of Premier League drop zone

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Aston Villa were the better team for most of this one, but it’s relatively common state for Villa – the superficial, unrewarded control that Paul Lambert’s team has often “enjoyed” throughout a troubling campaign. When an early Nathan Baker own goal left Villa to rue Christian Benteke’s early misses, Lambert’s team looked set for what would have been a crushing loss.

But today was one of the rare instances were Villa’s quality came good. A quick response from Benteke pulled Villa even, and when Gabriel Agbonlahor put the visitors up 2-1 at half time, Villa had all they needed. After 45 more minutes of Reading looking like the 19th place team they are, Aston Villa had a desperately needed three points, with Brad Guzan only having to make three saves.

Villa came into the match in 18th place, an astonishing station for one of the bigger clubs in English soccer. But their poor results and lack of improvement had pundits and fans questioning if they were destined to go down.

That made today’s match at Reading crucial. Not only was the game against one of the league’s bottom feeders a chance for crucial points, but Villa couldn’t afford to give Reading a needed boost.

Instead, it was the Lions that got the boost, one that came from the two men you’d expect to step up. Benteke has clearly been Villa’s best player this season. His goal was no surprise, but that it was Agbonlahor who scored such an important goal was apt. He is one of the few impact players left from the Martin O’Neill teams that serve as the reference point for the club’s current plight.

Those teams competed for Europe. This team’s fighting for survival. Three points at Reading took a huge step toward that goal, if for no other reason than it puts the Royals on the bring of the Championship.

With the result, Villa moves into 17th place, pushing Wigan into the drop. The Latics have a match in hand, having been pulled into FA Cup competition on Saturday. With a goal difference advantage, Wigan would stay up, should they convert on their match in hand.

But with nine games to go in the season, a three-point lead only matters so much. How the team’s playing is arguably more important. It portends to future points – points that could render Wigan’s match in hand irrelevant.

Villa took a big step forward today. The competition wasn’t fierce, but for a team that has often failed to convert control into concrete results, three points were huge.

Here’s Gabby Agbonlahor’s game-winner, courtesy FOX Soccer:

Bournemouth 2-2 Watford: Cherries battle back to draw

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21: Benik Afobe of AFC Bournemouth scores his sides second goal during the Premier League match between AFC Bournemouth and Watford at Vitality Stadium on January 21, 2017 in Bournemouth, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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  • King, Afobe equalize
  • Kabasele, Deeney put Hornets ahead
  • 4 draw in 4 PL meetings

Bournemouth and Watford once again played out an entertaining draw in the Premier League.

In their four meetings in the PL, all four have now ended in draws. Watford twice took the lead through Christian Kabasele and Troy Deeney but goals from Josh King and Beink Afobe pegged the Hornets back twice.

With the point Watford move on to 24 points, while Bournemouth has 26 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Jack Wilshere dinked a lovely ball to Ryan Fraser who headed towards goal but Heurelho Gomes saved well as the home side started well.

Wilshere then struck a strong shot on goal which Gomes had to save as it was one way traffic.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

Just as Bournemouth looked to be running away with things, Watford won a corner after a bad back pass from Fraser.

From that set piece Miguel Britos popped up at the back post and his header back across goal was nodded in by Kabasele. 1-0 to Watford as the Belgian international Kabasele had his second goal in the Premier League.

Tom Cleverley went close for Watford before the break but his low shot flashed wide as the Hornets led the Cherries.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Within three minutes of the second half Bournemouth were level as Adam Smith whipped in a great cross and King finished. 1-1. Game on.

Watford almost went ahead as Jose Holebas’ super strike was tipped wide by Artur Boruc. Gomes then denied Fraser with a wonderful stop to his left as the Bournemouth winger cut inside and curled an effort towards the top corner.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

Somewhat against the run of play Watford then went 2-1 up as Deeney headed home from close range as a corner caused mayhem in the box. Could the Hornets hold on this time? Nope.

Substitute Afobe then got free in the left side of the box and he sent a shot across goal and into the far corner which went under Gomes and in. 2-2 and that’s how another entertaining clash between these teams finished.

WATCH LIVE: Manchester City vs. Tottenham Hotspur (Lineups, Stream)

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JANUARY 21:  General view inside the stadium prior to the Premier League match between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur at the Etihad Stadium on January 21, 2017 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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The weekend’s marquee match sees Tottenham Hotspur going for a season sweep of Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE ONLINE HERE

Gabriel Jesus could make his Manchester City debut, beginning the day among Pep Guardiola‘s substitutes.

On the other side, Eric Dier moves into the middle with Toby Alderweireld in the absence of Jan Vertonghen. Kevin Wimmer slots in as well.

LINEUPS

Manchester City: Bravo, Zabaleta (C), Otamendi, Kolarov. Clichy, Yaya, Silva, De Bruyne, Sane. Sterling, Aguero. Subs: Caballero, Kompany, Fernando, Nolito, Delph, Stones, G. Jesus.

Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris (C), Walker, Dier, Alderweireld, Wimmer, Rose, Wanyama, Dembele, Eriksen, Dele, Kane. Subs: Vorm, Trippier, Davies, Carter-Vickers, Winks, Sissoko, Son.

West Bromwich Albion 2-0 Sunderland: Black Cats meet 20th

West Bromwich Albion's Darren Fletcher, left, celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game against Sunderland, during their English Premier League soccer match at The Hawthorns, West Bromwich, England, Saturday Jan. 21, 2017. (Nigel French/PA via AP)
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  • Fletcher, Brunt scores
  • WBA stays 8th
  • Sunderland goes bottom

Darren Fletcher and Chris Brunt struck in quick first half succession as West Bromwich Albion handed Sunderland a 2-0 defeat at the Hawthorns on Saturday.

West Brom is up to 32 points, comfortably midtable and aiming for some breaks atop the table and good Cup fortune to get into the European mix.

Sunderland is now three points back of 17th place, held by Swansea City. The Black Cats do have better goal differential than Swans, but sit 20th.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Chances for a minor upset didn’t look good early, though Sunderland dodged a bullet with Billy Jones‘ takedown of Salomon Rondon was judged not to merit a West Brom penalty kick.

Fletcher hit his target in the 30th minute to make partial amends, at least karmically, as West Brom went ahead when he chested Gareth McAuley‘s header into position for a volleyed finish.

Brunt was next, and his goal was just as fine to view. It started with intrepid Matty Phillips, whose cross was palmed back to Nacer Chadli. The ex-Spurs man hit the cross bar, but Brunt volleyed that home.

Jake Livermore nearly scored on debut for the Baggies, who rarely looked to be in trouble.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Stoke City 1-1 Man United: Rooney sets record with late goal

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  • Mata scores own goal
  • United have 25 shots
  • Rooney breaks record 

A historic moment arrived as Manchester United scored a stoppage time equalizer to draw 1-1 against Stoke City at the bet365 Stadium on Saturday.

Wayne Rooney scored that equalizer in stunning fashion to set the new record as United’s all-time leading goalscorer ahead of Sir Bobby Charlton.

[ VIDEO: Rooney reacts to breaking the record ]

Rooney now has 250 goals in his United career and although Jose Mourinho’s side slipped up in their quest to move closer to the top four they have extended their unbeaten run to 17 games in all competitions.

An own goal from Juan Mata after Erik Pieters‘ cross looked like it would be the difference as United had over 65 percent possession and plenty of shots on target but couldn’t break down a stubborn Stoke outfit.

However Rooney’s moment arrived in stoppage time and the rest, as they say, is history.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Early on there was a scare for Stoke as a high ball into the box saw Lee Grant catch the ball but collide with Ryan Shawcross and the loose ball was eventually cleared.

Stoke took the lead in the 19th minute as Marko Arnautovic played in Pieters and his cross deflected off Juan Mata and in at the near post. 1-0 to the Potters via Mata’s own goal.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings

Ibrahimovic then set up Mata unselfishly but the Spaniard’s shot went over from five yards out as as Bruno Martins Indi did enough to put him off. United looked increasingly dangerous as the first half wore on as Zlatan set up Mata again but the chance came and went with Martins Indi blocking his shot.

Grant then saved a volley from Marouane Fellaini and another from Zlatan but the Potters led at the break despite United having 12 attempts.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

In the second half Mata went close and United continued to push hard and Marcus Rashford came off the bench to try and get Mourinho’s men back in it.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score

On the break Stoke looked dangerous and Xherdan Shaqiri twice went close as the Swiss winger saw his volley saved by David De Gea and then a shot blocked by Chris Smalling.

Paul Pogba had a shot blocked and then Rashford curled an effort a yard wide of the goal when free in the box as United couldn’t find a way through.

On as a sub, Rooney then had a glorious chance to set the new goalscoring record but he sent a header over the bar. Jesse Lingard then had a shot from distance which deflected off Ryan Shawcross and hit the crossbar.

Yet Rooney was not to be denied as he curled him a sumptuous free kick to set the record and grab a point for his side.