BIRMINGHAM // Inspirational midfielder Rafael van der Vaart scored twice for a Tottenham Hotspur side who had to play for two thirds of the game with ten men in a frenetic Boxing Day clash at Villa Park.
Van der Vaart moved up to eight league goals for the season - ten in total - as Spurs saw off a late Villa rally to keep within touching distance of the top four in the Premier League table.
In an end-to-end start to the game Villa had claims for a penalty ignored by referee Martin Atkinson when Emile Heskey was challenged by Heurelho Gomes, leaving the Villa striker requiring treatment.
Controversy quickly followed as Younes Kaboul appeared to give Tottenham a 16th-minute lead, only for an assistant referee to rule the knock back from Alan Hutton had already crossed the deadball-line, with replays appearing to suggest that was not the case.
Villa responded in the 18th minute as Heskey and Gabriel Agbonlahor played a one-two that set the latter free, forcing Gomes into a save with his left knee from a powerful drive.
In the 23rd minute the goal that had been beckoning fell Spurs' way when Van der Vaart stabbed home his ninth goal of the season from a low cross from Alan Hutton. the right-back, who had initially been picked out down the right with a raking pass from Gareth Bale.
Spurs' joy was shortlived, however, because in the 27th minute they were reduced to 10 men when Jermain Defoe was sent off for an elbow in the face of James Collins, the Villa captain.
It appeared a harsh decision because, although Defoe led with his arm in jumping with the centre-back, his eyes were focused on the ball at all times.
Just before the midway point of the second half, Spurs and Van der Vaart delivered a crushing blow as they made it 2-0. The goal was sparked from Spurs' own penalty area, in part due to Nathan Delfouneso's failure to strike when a chance presented itself.
The inevitable break down of Villa's move played into Tottenham's hands as they broke with devastating effect, sparked by an 80-yard run down the right from Bale.
His ball to Aaron Lennon was played back by the winger into Van der Vaart's path for a first-time left-foot shot beyond the outstretched Brad Friedel's grasp.
As ten-man Tottenham tired, Marc Albrighton gave Villa hope when his cross eluded everyone and crept in at the far post with eight minutes, but it was not enough time for Gerard Houllier's men to then find an equaliser.