Newcastle's Champions League hopes are hanging by a thread following a lacklustre display against Aston Villa.

After three straight defeats United required a much-needed win but never really got started against Graham Taylor's side.

Nervous from the off and lacking conviction, Newcastle did go in at the break in front through Nolberto Solano who scored direct from a free kick for his sixth goal of the season.

But determined Villa grabbed a deserved equaliser through substitute Dion Dublin and those two dropped points have seen Newcastle surrender third place to Chelsea and are now just one point clear of resurgent Liverpool.

With Jonathan Woodgate going off injured in the second half along with skipper Alan Shearer whose face was a mask of blood following a clash of heads with Gareth Barry, Sir Booby Robson could face a selection headache for Saturday's derby clash at Sunderland.

And with Craig Bellamy appearing before a FA disciplinary panel on Tuesday the Wales international will be hoping the worst he receives is a fine.

That early clash of heads forced Shearer off the field three times in the first half hour and he received three stitches at the break, while Barry failed to appear for the second half.

Only time will tell the importance of this result as it was a game Newcastle never looked like winning. Victories in their final three games will guarantee a Champions League place, but United are finding it very difficult.

Rob Edwards came to Villa's rescue when clearing a Shearer header off the line after 29 minutes before United went in front seven minutes later.

Barry was booked for kicking the ball away and Referee Jeff Winter moved the ball a further ten yards forward and Solano beat Peter Enckelman all ends up from 20 yards.

Villa worked their way back into the game and an equaliser always looked on the cards.

It came after 69 minutes through the veteran Dublin who had only just gone on as substitute. A cleverly worked free-kick saw him meet Steve Staunton's cross and head beyond Shay Given.

With the last throw of the dice only the woodwork prevented a last gasp winner from United substitute Lomana LuaLua.