Peter Crouch rushed off to claim his seat beside the dancefloor after delivering a performance that manager Mark Hughes admitted would have merited a 10 if he had one of the Strictly Come Dancing score paddles at hand in the Stoke dug-out.
The beanpole striker set the standard for his wife Abbey Clancy’s ballroom title bid by setting up one goal, scoring another and almost grabbing another with a cheeky backheel that struck the inside of a post as Stoke’s progress under Hughes continued to gather upward momentum.
Stoke have suffered only one defeat in eight matches and can celebrate Christmas in the relative comfort of a mid-table position, a point ahead of Villa, whose stuttering form has not been helped by key striker Christian Benteke suffering a loss of confidence at just the wrong moment.
Benteke, left out in part due to a knee injury and in part because he has not scored in 10 matches, could benefit from some of the nous that enables Crouch to keep troubling Premier League defenders at the age of 32, despite sometimes finding himself on the end of some heavyweight tackles. Villa’s Fabian Delph was arguably lucky to escape with a yellow card after two fouls in a minute on the former England striker.
“I played that role for many years myself with my back to the goal and sometimes it can be a thankless task where you have to take some hits for the team,” Hughes said. “He has been a very accomplished player for some years now and you don’t achieve that at this level without being a very good player.”
Hughes refuted suggestions that Crouch might be sold in January, with a return to Queens Park Rangers, where he began his career, reportedly in the offing. “He is a player we want to keep, he won’t be going anywhere,” Hughes said.
One goal per game is the best either of these sides had been able to muster over the course of the 16 Premier League games and a drab first half promised little improvement. Villa, missing the suspended Gabriel Agbonlahor as well as Benteke, picked a front six with only half a dozen goals between them all season, which did not augur well for any improvement.
Given that Stoke did not offer anything significantly more scintillating than Villa in the first 45 minutes, it was as well Hughes saw fit to add some creativity in the second period, introducing Charlie Adam from the bench.
The former Liverpool midfielder’s first contribution of note was to put Stoke in front. Geoff Cameron, who had given Brad Guzan a scare in the first half when the strong wind turned one of his crosses into a shot that the American had to push over the bar, delivered another testing ball from the right, Crouch knocked a header downwards and Adam bustled past Nathan Baker before sliding the ball across the Villa keeper for his fourth goal of the season.
Villa began to look a little ragged, with Delph and Chris Herd booked in the space of a minute, after which Villa’s 66th-minute equaliser came as a surprise, although apart from Libor Kozak having the presence of mind to seize a gift opportunity, the visitors could not claim much credit for the goal.
A long Guzan clearance was only headed sideways by Marc Wilson, whose error was compounded when Erik Pieters attempted to head the ball back to Asmir Begovic, only for Kozak to intercept and pick up an easy goal.
Villa manager Paul Lambert believed that his side did enough to merit a point, but Stoke were always the more positive side and Cameron’s crosses from the right flank continued to pose problems for a Villa defence lacking the injured Ron Vlaar and still suspect at times under pressure.
Crouch’s second goal came when a Cameron cross evaded both Guzan and Herd in their attempts to cut it out. Crouch controlled the ball on his chest and swept it home.
Plainly enjoying himself, Crouch demonstrated his special brand of fancy footwork after Glenn Whelan had headed an Adam corner back across goal, flicking out a heel and turning to see the ball clip the inside of the left-hand post before running to safety.
A swift reprise of his party-piece “robot” dance might have been the order of the day in the dressing room later, had there not been a fast car waiting to whisk him away.
Stoke City (4-2-3-1): Begovic; Cameron, Shawcross, Wilson, Pieters; Nzonzi, Whelan; Walters, Arnautovic (Adam, h-t), Assaidi (Pennant, 71); Crouch.
Aston Villa (4-4-1-1): Guzan; Lowton, Herd, Clark, Baker; Albrighton (Bacuna, 81), Westwood, Delph, Tonev (Bowery, 67); Weimann; Kozak. Referee: Craig Pawson.
Man of the match: Crouch (Stoke)
Match rating: 6/10Reuse content