Peter LansleyIf this time last year seemed like the bleakest of mid-winters for Aston Villa, this one could be even harsher. Never mind conceding 12 goals in defeats by Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, top-five sides, last Christmas, this loss at home to Crystal Palace means Paul Lambert's side have the lowest home scoring record in all four divisions. They will seek to avoid a fifth successive defeat when they host Swansea City on Saturday just three points above a relegation zone that Crystal Palace escaped thanks to Dwight Gayle's wonderful winning goal two minutes into stoppage time.

As Tony Pulis celebrated a third victory from six games in charge at Palace, Lambert must deal with the fact his team are in relegation form. Whether considering the meagre tally of 10 points from 12 games since Manchester City were beaten here in September, or assessing this shapeless performance against a team who started in the bottom three and set up to avoid defeat, the Villa manager has to stem a spiral that is dragging his team into another battle against relegation.

Gayle came on as a late substitute to curl in a memorable effort into the top corner, his third goal in the Premier League since he signed from Peterborough United for £6m in the summer. Palace responded to a loose home defeat by Newcastle United by jamming the midfield and stopping Villa from playing. Good job, with a trip to Manchester City next up. The escape act, not so long ago seemingly a fantasy, is now possible. If Palace are to survive, Villa are one of the teams they can drag into trouble.

Lambert's team, having mustered only six league goals at Villa Park all season, have failed to score in five of their last six home games and they were booed off the field at the end of a dreadful performance. Lacking the spine of Ron Vlaar, Christian Benteke, both injured, and the suspended Ashley Westwood, they looked toothless and lacking direction.

"There shouldn't be pressure here," the Villa manager said. "There's nearly 40,000 behind you. There shouldn't be that pressure but the expectation level – you've got to handle that. It's a quick turnaround, we have to go again on Saturday, so you have to pick yourself up. You've got to meet that challenge."

Asked whether, looking at the league table, he thought his team were in a relegation fight, Lambert replied: "No. As the manager, I've got to be as positive as I can. It's as tight as anything. Our home form's not good enough. You have to stand up and be counted, and get on the front foot." Benteke's knee injury is definitely set to keep him out on Saturday but he has a chance of returning at Sunderland on New Year's Day.

The first half was a write-off as Palace, after two successive defeats, replaced the suspended Marouane Chamakh with Yannick Bolasie and packed the midfield. Villa could not find the room to claim the initiative. The return from suspension of Gabriel Agbonlahor might have helped compensate for Benteke's continued absence, but the home side failed to find any rhythm.

Home crowd hushed, Palace opened up in the second half and twice Jason Puncheon should have scored, allowing Brad Guzan to save. Andreas Weimann also spurned two clear chances at the other end, either side of Guzan tipping Bannan's shot against the post.

Just as both teams looked content with a point, Dean Moxey sent Gayle down the inside-left channel from whence he cut inside Fabien Delph and curled his right-footed shot into the far top corner. "This will give me the opportunity to talk to the chairman," Pulis said. "We need to try and get some people in."