BIRMINGHAM: Gabriel Agbonlahor gave Aston Villa the bragging rights over bitter rivals Birmingham as his late goal clinched a 1-0 win at St Andrews on Sunday.

A dour struggle looked set to end with the spoils shared until Agbonlahor popped up to head home with just five minutes to play.

Agbonlahor's goal ensured Villa's fans will be able to lord it over their friends and work-mates for several months after a fifth successive win over their arch enemies.

Losing the 'second city' derby to a late goal from Agbonlahor is becoming something of a recurring nightmare for Birmingham, who suffered the same fate when the sides last met at St Andrews in November 2007.

After losing their opening game of the season at home to Wigan, Villa have now reeled off three victories, but Birmingham are sliding towards the bottom three after a second successive defeat.

"It was a game of very few chances and it looked as if it was heading for stalemate," Villa boss Martin O'Neill said. "But we have players capable of scoring goals and it was a terrific goal for us.

"The points are very important to us. That is three consecutive wins in the Premier League after a disappointing start."

Birmingham manager Alex McLeish added: "It is harsh result. There is no doubt about that. We played really well and got about Villa.

"I don't think we allowed them to play at all. The difference between us and Villa, in financial clout and quality, is a big gulf but it didn't look like it here."

With both teams playing for the first time since the close of the transfer window, there were debuts galore.

Finland midfielder Teemu Tainio made his first appearance for Birmingham after joining on loan from Sunderland, while O'Neill fielded an almost entirely new defence as Richard Dunne, James Collins and Stephen Warnock made their debuts.

Although the three new members of Villa's back-four were playing together for the first time, they showed no signs of unfamilarity in the early stages.

It was Villa who had the first chance when Agbonlahor slipped the ball to James Milner inside the penalty area. But the England winger's shot went well wide.

There were plenty of fierce tackles in a typically frenetic opening as both sides fought to gain control in the midfield.

In the 21st minute Milner squandered another opportunity to open the scoring. Agbonlahor's pace proved too much for the City defence and his low cross picked out Milner, who scuffed his shot tamely wide.

Birmingham's first real opening arrived on the half-hour when a neat flick-on by Garry O'Connor put Lee Bowyer in the clear. The City midfielder tested Brad Friedel in the Villa goal with a stinging right-footed drive that the American keeper did will to punch to safety.

Villa always looked slightly more threatening though and Milner sent a 20-yard drive wide of the target at the opposite end.

Milner was in the thick of the action again soon after but failed to convert Ashley Young's cross before Agbonlahor headed wide just prior to half-time.

Birmingham substitute Lee Carsley tested Friedel with a curling shot from the edge of the penalty area early in the second half.

Bowyer tried his luck from 25 yards out but his effort, which went well wide of the target, summed up the patchy nature of the game.

Steve Sidwell should have done better than head straight at Joe Hart before the City keeper denied Milner.

But there was a dramatic denouement in store. In the 85th minute John Carew, on as a substitute, met Young's cross with a towering header and Agbonlahor was perfectly placed to nod past Hart.