Dion Dublin's deflected shot earned struggling Aston Villa a 1-0 win and three crucial points against 10-man Middlesbrough who had midfielder Mark Wilson harshly sent off as they suffered another bout of away-day blues.
Dublin's eighth goal of the campaign ended a run of four defeats in five Barclaycard Premiership games for Graham Taylor's side, who had begun the game perched only four points above the relegation zone but finished it seven clear.
But Wilson could count himself extremely unlucky to have received his marching orders, particularly for the second caution for a challenge on Samuel, as Styles handed out his fifth red card in 12 games this season.
Boro had already been second best but after that their 10 men had to soak up an almost relentless stream of pressure from the home side until the final 15 minutes.
The ever impressive Gareth Barry and early substitute Ulises de la Cruz provided a string of crosses from both flanks.
Villa's failing this season has been to kill teams off and this factor, plus some fine saves from Boro goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer, meant they had to endure a nervy finale.
It was the home fans who were relieved to hear the final whistle as Joseph-Desire Job, Boro's best player, and the overlapping Franck Queudrue caused problems.
But the statistics show Boro have lost eight matches away from the Riverside Stadium as they struggled to reproduce the form which had seen them dispose of Manchester United on Boxing Day.
Villa, beaten in four of their previous five league matches, were forced into a substitution after only four minutes with Mustapha Hadji limping off with what looked like a hamstring injury to be replaced by De la Cruz.
Villa keeper Stefan Postma, standing in for the injured Peter Enckelman, was quickly into the thick of the action and he did well to block a close range effort from Szilard Nemeth after he cut in from the right.
But after 11 minutes Villa broke the deadlock through Dion Dublin. Barry found Juan Pablo Angel in space on the right flank and he had time to measure up his cross which picked out Dublin at the near post.
The former England striker appeared to strike his volley clean enough but it took a deflection off Mark Wilson before looping over Mark Schwarzer into the net.
Wilson then found himself back in the dressing room after referee Rob Styles ruled he had committed two bookable offences in bringing down Barry and then Jlloyd Samuel.
The second caution for the tackle on Samuel looked particularly harsh but it left Boro to play for more than two thirds of the game with 10 men.
Villa tried to make their numerical advantage count and Schwarzer was forced to turn a first time effort from Dublin over the bar at full stretch.
The Boro keeper then clung on to a powerful drive from Samuel and fingertipped a pile-driver from Barry onto the crossbar.
Boro only threatened spasmodically but in first half injury-time a powerful shot from Nemeth looked goalbound until Dublin managed to head clear following a corner by Franck Queudrue.
Villa had to reorganise again for the second half with the injured Ronny Johnsen replaced by left-back Alan Wright which led to Samuel moving alongside Olof Mellberg.
It was one-way traffic towards the Boro goal at the start of the second period. Angel curled a free-kick just wide and Ehiogu blocked a fierce drive from Barry.
Then Luke Wilkshire came to Boro's rescue when he blocked an Angel header on the line following a cross from Wright.
Boro boss Steve McClaren brought on Noel Whelan and Tony Vidmar for Nemeth and Wilkshire to try and give some relief to his side, who for the first time started to cause Villa a few problems.
Postma did well to turn a curling free-kick from Geremi around the post after Villa debutant Rob Edwards had brought down Job and then Wright cleared a Geremi header off the line.
The rebound fell to Ehiogu just eight yards out - but he drilled his shot over the crossbar. It proved to be Boro's last chance.
After the match Aston Villa manager Graham Taylor spelt out his relief at seeing his side get back on the winning trail and admitted: 'That was an
important result for us.'
Villa had gone into the Villa Park encounter on the back of four defeats
in their previous five league games and having made a quarter-final exit from
the Worthington Cup at the hands of Liverpool.
Taylor said: 'We needed that. We were very nervous and the club has been
going through one of those spells where injuries seem to knock us when things
are getting back on track.
'We lost Mustapha Hadji after only three minutes and then had to re-organise
again when Ronny Johnsen had to go off at half-time with another injury.
'Having taken the lead the players were very nervous and if the referee had
said at half-time that he was ending the game then I think they would have taken
it - and perhaps I would have as well.
'I am very pleased with the result. The players were aware of the position
the club is in after losing the Liverpool game and the next two league matches.
They knew how important it was to get a result.
'I think in all honesty the defeat by Liverpool in the Worthington Cup with
the last kick of the game hit people a bit harder than they might have thought.
'It was a big body blow going out. All the players thought they were going to
go on and win that competition.
'But they've responded today and hopefully things can now go on from there in
what is a vital week for us with the home league game with Bolton on Wednesday
and the FA Cup tie with Blackburn next weekend.'
Middlesbrough manager Steve McClaren was unhappy with the first-half sending
off of midfielder Mark Wilson for two bookable offences and is calling for
referees in general to show more commonsense.
He said: 'They were probably bookable offences but they were so early in the
game and I think referees have to show more commonsense.
'I don't think there was a dirty tackle in the game. Games are hectic and
very frantic and tackles occasionally are going to be a bit late. I just think
consistency from referees is what we are after and we did not get that today.
'For me the game was spoilt after the sending off. The players gave
everything and tried as much as they could but it was an uphill battle after