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A stunning late strike from Matthew Lowton and an injury-time Christian Benteke goal boosted Aston Villa's survival hopes at the expense of Stoke City. Tony Pulis’s side had looked like slowing their recent slide as Michael Kightly cancelled out an early Gabriel Agbonlahor effort. But Lowton hit an unstoppable 30-yard volley to restore Villa's lead after 87 minutes and Benteke made sure of the points in injury time.
The victory will give Villa, having started the game in the bottom three, a huge lift but added to Stoke’s concerns. Defeat left Pulis' men just one point above Villa and with only one win in 13 games.
Pulis had changed his attack in the hope of halting this dip, dropping Peter Crouch and Cameron Jerome to the bench and pairing Jon Walters and Kenwyne Jones up front. Yet aside from the opening moments, the change did little as Villa bossed the first half and could have had more than a 1-0 lead at the break.
It could have been different had the hosts been awarded the penalty they wanted after two minutes when Walters smashed the ball into Nathan Baker's arm from close range. Referee Mark Clattenburg deemed the contact unintentional.
Stoke looked up for the fight at that point but their optimism was pierced after just nine minutes as Lowton and Jordan Bowery combined from a throw-in to cut through the home defence. Lowton reached the byline and pulled back for Agbonlahor in front of goal and the striker rolled in at the second attempt after his initial effort was blocked.
The goal came against the run of play but it changed the game's momentum and Stoke had an escape when Robert Huth backed off and Bowery fired into the side-netting. Benteke shot at Asmir Begovic as Villa maintained the pressure and he seized possession soon after to race clear and find Agbonlahor, who side-footed wide.
The anxiety among the home fans was obvious especially when Andreas Weimann broke clear and struck a post with a low shot Begovic may have brushed with his fingertips.
Agbonlahor ran into more space after Stoke gave the ball away just before the half-hour but the striker took a heavy touch attempting to round Begovic and was booked after a late fall. Stoke managed to toughen up before the break but created no meaningful opportunities before the break.
The home fans’ worries may have increased after the restart as Benteke managed to find Bowery but Begovic was not troubled by his long-range shot. Bowery beat Marc Wilson to create another opportunity but failed to hit the target.
An injury ot Marc Wilson gave Pulis the opportunity to strengthen his attack and he sent on Jerome. That brought a change of shape but it was some time before it yielded greater end-product as Villa continued to dominate play.
Jones managed to find an opening but his powerful shot struck Baker on the side of the head and the Villa defender needed a moment to regain his composure. Jones then found space in front of goal after play restarted but fluffed his shot after being picked out by Jerome.
Stoke were enjoying their best spell of the game and, with confidence growing, Walters raced away down the left. He fed inside to Charlie Adam, who had been on the field just a matter of minutes, and he turn teed up half-time substitute Kightly to stab home.
The equaliser transformed the atmosphere and the crowd began to find their voice. But it was not to last as Lowton dramatically swung the game back in Villa's favour with a superb volley three minutes from time. The defender chested down an attempted clearance from a corner outside the box and fired back into the far top corner.
Home hopes were deflated and as the game ran towards injury time, Benteke raced through and calmly stroked the ball past Begovic for the third.
Stoke City manager Tony Pulis: "We are disappointed. I thought we started well, but we gave such a soft goal away. It was a real soft goal and, to be honest, it looked as though it drained a few of the lads' confidence. The crowd were good today, they turned up to get behind us and really tried to push us on.
"In the second half, Villa had the better chances and the better opportunities on the break. They broke really well and looked really dangerous. We got the goal and you think we will go on and win it, and then Lowton's goal is one in a million. Certainly the breaks aren't going for us."
Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert: “We deserved it. We were terrific in certain parts of the game. And the three goals, especially Matty Lowton's - I don't think you will see a better goal in Europe, let alone Britain.
"It was a world-class finish. He has come from Sheffield United this season, not missed a minute in the games and that was one unbelievable finish."
"We are playing very well at the minute. I thought we were unfortunate to get beat by Liverpool [last weekend], but it's not every week that you have to play Liverpool and today, right from the off, we were outstanding."
|19 May 2013||v Southampton (A)|
|06 May 2013||v Sunderland (A)|
|12 May 2013||v Spurs (H)|
|20 Apr 2013||v QPR (A)|
|27 Apr 2013||v Norwich (H)|
|14 Apr 2013||v Man Utd (H)|