John Carew struck on his home debut to give Aston Villa a 1-0 victory over West Ham.
Villa looked to be coasting to a comfortable victory as Carew scored late in the first half, but they were almost made to rue a host of missed opportunities as West Ham rallied brilliantly in the last ten minutes.
Despite their late flourish Alan Curbishley's side could not force an equaliser and are now five points adrift of Wigan, with a mountain to climb to avoid relegation.
After a tentative opening from both teams Villa gradually started to find some rhythm, and Gavin McCann fired a swerving shot just past Roy Carroll's left-hand post in the 12th minute.
Stilian Petrov, looking to impress after being linked with a move away in January, was heavily involved in the early stages and sent two long-range efforts fizzing off target.
Ashley Young nearly opened the scoring with a cleverly improvised, left-foot poke from the edge of the area, but Carroll was alert to the danger and sprang to his right to pull off a superb save.
With Carew also showing some nice touches up front West Ham's new-look defence appeared vulnerable, and life became more difficult when Matthew Upson had to be substituted 30 minutes into his debut.
Upson injured himself landing awkwardly after heading the ball clear, and Christian Dailly was thrown into the fray by Curbishley.
West Ham's backline was given no opportunity to regroup however, as Carew put Villa ahead after 36 minutes. Receiving a forward pass from Young, the Norwegian held off the attentions of Calum Davenport just outside the area, swivelled, and crashed a low shot past Carroll.
The Hammers offered nothing as an attacking force in the first 45 minutes and only sporadically broke out of their own half, and the pattern continued after the break.
Bobby Zamora and Kepa Blanco were starved of service and only managed to get into the game when they tracked back to help in defence, while the midfield quartet were completely out of sorts.
Young was a bundle of energy as he searched for a second Villa goal, but he slashed wide when presented with a decent chance on the edge of the box.
Gareth Barry's weak shot from distance was safely gathered in by Carroll, before McCann dragged an effort narrowly wide.
Villa were not rewarded for their dominance though and as the clock ticked down towards the final whistle they started to retreat further back.
West Ham, sensing an opportunity to salvage an unlikely point, pressed for an equaliser but could not carve open a resilient Villa defence. One fluent attack gave Yossi Benayoun a glimpse of goal, but his shot was crowded out by Petrov and Wilfred Bouma.
Villa nearly secured the points on the counter-attack as Carroll beat away a blistering Petrov strike, before substitute Patrik Berger saw his close-range finish ruled out for offside.
In a frantic finish Thomas Sorensen twice came to Villa's rescue with superlative saves, first tipping over from Matthew Etherington and then parrying away Davenport's powerful volley.
George McCartney then headed against the woodwork from a tight angle as Aston Villa clung on for dear life in stoppage time.