Huth's late strike outlines scale of the task awaiting Houllier at Villa

Stoke City 2 Aston Villa 1

In a cross-channel tale of two managers, Tony Pulis sparked a dramatic turnaround in Stoke's fortunes when he arrived after half-time after the death of his mother, while Gérard Houllier watched helplessly in France via TV as Aston Villa succumbed to Robert Huth's stoppage-time goal.

Villa, again under the caretaker stewardship of Kevin MacDonald, looked set for a third win in four matches and third place in the Premier League when they entered the final 10 minutes still leading through Stewart Downing's first-half header. But Pulis's presence had contributed to an emotionally charged atmosphere in which Stoke's £8m record buy Kenwyne Jones brought them level. Huth, the German defender who had been at fault for Downing's goal, atoned in full with only seconds remaining.

David Kemp, Pulis's assistant, paid tribute to his dedication at a time of personal tragedy. "I knew Tony was going to get here at some time and he arrived during the first half," he said. "He'd travelled up from south Wales, got his overalls on and went to work. He did the half-time team talk and took the paint off the walls."

Kemp added: "His presence gave everyone a lift. That's why he has been a great manager for this club. After everything else that was going on, he still helped us get the result we needed. We've had disappointing results until now, but we showed character and made our own luck."

The other stand-in manager, MacDonald, expressed sympathy for Pulis, describing him as "a wonderful man", though he doubted whether his sudden appearance early in the second half "would have changed the way his team played". The evidence suggested otherwise, Villa failing to maintain their first-half ascendancy in the face of a stirring Stoke fightback.

Was Villa's late capitulation a reflection of a state of limbo as players and staff wait for Houllier to secure his release from the French FA? "You saw the players tonight," MacDonald said. "It was pretty good, I thought. We're very disappointed, obviously, especially because the winning goal started from what might not have been a free-kick to Stoke. But you know how difficult it's going to be when you come here."

A fourth consecutive defeat would have represented Stoke's worst start in 104 years, an outcome that would have been unjust given their bright start and rousing finish, in which Jones, finally starting a home fixture after an injury-blighted summer switch from Sunderland, was a thorn in Villa's flesh.

A fine early pass to Jones by Marc Wilson, the former Portsmouth defender, showed why Pulis had picked the latter in midfield, Friedel narrowing the angle before parrying the Trinidadian's shot. Jones then let fly from 25 yards and the keeper hurled himself to push the swerving ball aside.

Stoke's positive start counted for nothing when Villa stole ahead 10 minutes before half-time. Nigel Reo-Coker supplied Gabriel Agbonlahor, whose right-wing cross saw Downing exploit right-back Huth's inclination to drift into a centre-back's position by slipping away from him and angling a diving header past the ex-Villan Thomas Sorensen.

Before half-time Ashley Young glanced a free header wide from five yards after another Agbonlahor delivery, while Sorensen clawed out Downing's shot when Marc Albrighton again located him at the far post. When a low cross by Ashley Young flashed invitingly across the face of the goal, it was clear what the theme of Pulis's pep talk would be.

The Welshman jogged into the technical area soon after the interval, waving in recognition of a warm ovation from the home fans. The decibel level went up a notch, there was greater conviction about Stoke's attacks and Jones promptly forced Friedel to palm away a towering header.

After Pulis sent on Ricardo Fuller and Jermaine Pennant, Villa tried to dig in for a third clean sheet in four matches. Jones, heading in Fuller's cross after a clever move involving Etherington and Delap, put paid to that prospect. With the siege into a third minute of time added on, and Villa claiming Pennant had dived to earn a free-kick moments earlier, Huth turned in Etherington's shot to allow Pulis to end a day of personal sadness on a note of professional satisfaction.

Match facts

Stoke City (4-4-2): Sorensen; Huth, Shawcross, Faye, D Collins; Delap (Whelan, 87), Whitehead, Wilson (Pennant, 65), Etherington; Walters (Fuller, 60), Jones. Substitutes not used: Begovic (gk), Higginbotham, Gudjohnsen, Wilkinson.

Booked D Collins.

Aston Villa (4-4-1-1): Friedel; L Young, Dunne, J Collins, Warnock; Albrighton, Petrov, Reo-Coker, Downing; A Young; Agbonlahor (Heskey, 86). Substitutes not used: Guzan (gk), Ireland, Beye, Cuellar, Clark, Hogg.

Booked Warnock, Petrov.

Man of the match Etherington.

Possession Stoke 50% Aston Villa 50%

Shots on target Stoke 12, Aston Villa 6.

Referee L Probert Attendance 25,899.

Match rating 7/10.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific