Aston Villa vs Stoke City match report: Tim Sherwood's Villa Park debut ends in late heartbreak as Victor Moses seals Potters victory

Aston Villa 1 Stoke City 2

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The Independent Football

There was a long-absent sense of anticipation at Villa Park as Tim Sherwood strolled down the touchline wearing his trademark black gilet beneath a dark suit jacket and took the applause of the home fans before kick-off.

By the end, though, a familiar gloom had descended. Victor Moses’s 93rd-minute penalty had inflicted a sixth straight League loss on Villa and the new manager, standing glumly with folded arms in the technical area, had seen for himself the massive size of his task ahead.

Ron Vlaar’s rash challenge on Moses earned the Dutchman a second yellow card and led to this damaging debut defeat for Sherwood, whose team slipped below Burnley into 19th place as a consequence. Sherwood, after a week of positive soundbites, admitted he was “devastated”. “No-one feels as down as I am,” he said. “We have to put this behind us now and not dwell on it. Games are running out.”

They certainly are. Sherwood, who won five of his first six games as Tottenham manager, has 12 left this season, starting at Newcastle next weekend, to preserve the Premier League status of a team who, despite the lift of an early Scott Sinclair goal – their first in a first half since December – could not prevent the old failings and anxieties.

Sherwood had made an immediate impact with his energising half-time talk during Villa’s FA Cup fifth-round victory over Leicester last Sunday. Yesterday he underlined his desire to get his goal-shy side playing on the front foot by dropping both Tom Cleverley and Ashley Westwood, neat footballers but representative perhaps of the over-safe sideways passing that had become Villa’s staple under Paul Lambert. 

There was an encouraging sign during one early Christian Benteke break, when three team-mates raced into the box in anticipation of the cross and, by the 20th minute, Villa had the first goal of the new era when Fabian Delph picked up an overhit corner and whipped a brilliant cross back into the box for Sinclair to head in at the far post. Sherwood clenched his fists and Sinclair almost broke through again moments later.

Scott Sinclair put Aston Villa head in the first half

“I was encouraged with some performances,” Sherwood reflected. “Scott Sinclair was very good, the two centre backs, Kieran Richardson was very lively, Alan Hutton gave us a threat. I am sure we have the quality in the squad, it is going to be about putting the right jigsaw together.”

If the sight of Kevin Richardson’s name on the team sheet – it should have said Kieran, rather than Villa’s 1994 League Cup-winning captain – was a reminder of more successful days, the 10,000 empty seats underlined the level of disaffection among the fanbase. Those who did turn up to greet the new manager saw their team’s fragile confidence vanish after Stoke equalised on the stroke of half-time. Steven Ireland swung in a cross and Mame Biram Diouf got up between Vlaar and Hutton to plant a header home. Sherwood said: “We switched off just before half time from a throw-in and conceded and it knocks the stuffing out of you.”

He has spoken of his wish to get the best out of Benteke but Diouf, Stoke’s Senegal forward, was twice as influential at the other end as the visitors controlled the second half. Although Benteke and Ciaran Clark threatened with headers in the final 10 minutes, the late drama arrived at the other end, Moses sending Brad Guzan the wrong way from the spot following Vlaar’s trip on him.

Stoke manager Mark Hughes said: “A lot of people were saying we’d get beaten today but we didn’t allow Villa to get any momentum.”

For a deflated Sherwood, the feeling was different. “It was a cruel way to lose,” he said, that pre-match optimism long since vanished.

Aston Villa: (4-2-3-1) Guzan; Hutton, Vlaar, Clark, Richardson (Cissokho, 42); Sanchez, Delph; Gil (Weimann, 58), Agbonlahor, Sinclair; Benteke.

Stoke City: (4-2-3-1) Begovic; Bardsley, Wollscheid, Wilson, Pieters (Teixeira, 86); Nzonzi, Whelan; Diouf, Ireland (Sidwell, 85), Moses; Walters.

Referee: Roger East

Man of the match: Diouf (Stoke)

Match rating: 6/10