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Jan, 12, 2013

Aston Villa falls into relegation zone

Aston Villa's miserable season suffered another damaging blow as a controversial penalty -- converted by skipper Rickie Lambert -- gave fellow struggler Southampton a 1-0 victory at Villa Park.

Villa defender Enda Stevens appeared to make no contact on Saints player Jay Rodriguez before he went to ground just inside the box but stand-in referee Mark Halsey -- a late replacement for the ill Chris Foy -- thought otherwise.

Lambert made no mistake with his 34th minute spot kick to move Nigel Adkins' side above Villa.

"I've seen the penalty loads of times," said Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert. "I've had a chat with Mark after the game. He was adamant he was 100 percent right -- and he has guessed. It was never a penalty, never, nowhere near it. Was it cheating? Listen, I'm not going to get involved in calling someone a cheat.

"From our point of view Mark has got it wrong. He'll be totally embarrassed by it. It is nowhere near a penalty."

Villa has now taken only one point from its past five league games and looks set for a season-long battle to stay in the Premier League. The game completed a miserable week after Tuesday's League Cup semifinal, first leg setback at Bradford.

Saturday's defeat further emphasized the need for Paul Lambert to bring in reinforcements during January, though he indicated Friday that there will not be major funding available.

Reading breathed new life into its survival bid when two late goals from Adam Le Fondre and Pavel Pogrebnyak completed a stunning 3-2 comeback victory over West Brom.

The Baggies had been in cruise control after Belgian international striker Romelu Lukaku had put them 2-0 up and hit the woodwork twice.

Reading seemed down and out. But Jimmy Kebe grabbed an opportunist goal to set up a tense finish and the Royals snatched victory from the jaws of defeat by completing a dramatic late turnaround.

Le Fondre came off the bench to draw Reading level with an 88th minute penalty after Kebe had been fouled by Jonas Olsson before Pogrebnyak bundled in the winner from an Ian Harte free kick.

Sebastian Larsson's stunning goal set up a comfortable 3-0 victory for Sunderland as it dragged itself further clear of the relegation zone against West Ham.

The Sweden international set the Black Cats on their way with a 12th-minute piledriver, and the game was effectively over when Adam Johnson scored from close range after taking advantage of comical defending by West Ham two minutes after the restart.

James McClean wrapped up the win 16 minutes from time after Stephane Sessegnon left defenders trailing in his wake, and not for the first time.

Franco di Santo's thumping effort earned Wigan a deserved point as Fulham's struggles at Craven Cottage continued in a 1-1 draw.

The Argentina international made the Latics' pressure count in the 71st minute, cutting in from the left before unleashing a fierce drive that beat Mark Schwarzer.

Di Santo's second-half strike means Fulham has failed to win in four successive home matches in all competitions, with the last victory coming against Newcastle on Dec. 10.

Giorgos Karagounis last week opened his Fulham account with an exquisite half-volley against Blackpool in the FA Cup and scored another fantastic goal Saturday, bursting through the middle to unleash a fierce drive that went in off the inside of the post.

Wigan center back Ivan Ramis had to be taken off on a stretcher toward the end of the game, and manager Roberto Martinez said he fears Ramis suffered a knee ligament injury that could end his season.

The need for Newcastle and Norwich to add quality to their squads was laid bare at Carrow Road, which played host to potentially one of the most boring scoreless draws of the season.

Chris Hughton had a chance to banish memories of Norwich's dismal festive period and get one over on the club that sacked him so harshly in December 2010, but his side only had two serious attempts on goal -- a Russell Martin shot that clipped the post and a header from captain Grant Holt that went just over in the closing seconds.

Swansea claimed a creditable 0-0 draw at Everton.

Spain manager Vincente del Bosque was in attendance and got no goals from Michu but saw an accomplished defensive showing from Chico Flores.

Information from Press Association was used in this report.

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