For Aston Villa, the optimism of their opening-day victory at Bournemouth is already a distant memory. Villa have not won a Premier League game since, and the way they limped to a fourth straight loss yesterday offered no encouragement at all to a team who look set for a season-long fight against relegation.
The home side, 18th in the table, lacked the imagination and knowhow to trouble a solid Stoke side, and Villa’s manager, Tim Sherwood, admitted it was a “poor performance all around” as the visitors, through Marco Arnautovic’s second-half strike, secured their first away win of the campaign with relative ease.
For Sherwood, this was another home match that ended with a chorus of boos, and another that left more questions than answers for a manager still trying to bed in 13 summer signings. “You have to keep juggling it around and trying to find a right solution,” said Sherwood, who deployed three centre-backs before switching at half-time to a 4-4-2 as Jack Grealish replaced Joleon Lescott.
The change made no real difference in a game where Villa’s midfielders were too static and their wide men failed to supply the big striker Rudy Gestede. Indeed the only real consequence of Sherwood’s switch is that there was a big space between the two remaining centre-backs, Micah Richards and Jose Angel Crespo, for Arnautovic to break into and score the only goal after 55 minutes. Glen Johnson played him in and with his second touch the Austrian slotted the ball in off the near post.
For Arnautovic it was a case of justice done after he was wrongly ruled offside when turning in a Bojan cross in the first half. “Thankfully Marco is getting into those positions now,” said Stoke’s manager, Mark Hughes. “We pull his leg about the fact he seems happier putting the ball on a plate for other guys to score.”
At the other end, Micah Richards put a free header wide and then produced an exaggerated dive over Glenn Whelan in a vain attempt to win a penalty.
These are desperate times for Villa. They have just one point from four home matches and their opponents in their next six fixtures include Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City and Everton.
“I wouldn’t say time is running out, but the clock is certainly ticking,” said Sherwood of the need for points.
It could have been worse. It took a terrific sliding block by Richards to block a Mame Diouf shot after four minutes, while Charlie Adam nearly produced a goal to match his goal of the season at Stamford Bridge last April with another 70-yard strike which Brad Guzan tipped over.
Aston Villa: (3-5-2) Guzan; Crespo, Richards, Lescott (Grealish, h-t); Hutton, Veretout. Westwood (Gil, 75), Gana, Amavi; Sinclair (Ayew, 59), Gestede.
Stoke: (4-2-3-1) Butland; Johnson, Cameron, Wollscheid, Pieters; Adam, Whelan ; Diouf (Joselu, 86), Bojan (Afellay, 59), Arnautovic (Van Ginkel, 70); Walters.
Referee: Mike Jones.
Man of the match: Johnson (Stoke)
Match rating: 6/10
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