This was supposed to the continuation of Stoke City’s resurgence while nails have been on hand for Aston Villa’s coffin for some time. Instead, Paul Lambert’s superbly drilled defence came out on top and, capitalising on Andreas Weimann’s goal, Villa deserved their first away win since January 1.
Stoke, buoyed by finishing ninth in the Premier League last season and a summer of exciting transfer activity, capped by the acquisition of Bojan Krkic, expected better than to be outdone by a Villa side widely tipped for another battle against relegation after the club was put up for sale at the start of the close season.
Ron Vlaar, the Villa captain who excelled in helping Holland finish third in the World Cup finals this summer, epitomised all that was sound about Lambert’s side as Philippe Senderos, Alan Hutton and Aly Cissokho all gave performances befitting experienced Premier League defenders.
Kieran Richardson, another ageing addition, was also outstanding in midfield for Villa as Lambert looks to make do and mend in this transitional period for the club. Mark Hughes was left frustrated and chipping away at Weimann as the Villa goalscorer left the field too slowly for the Stoke manager’s liking upon his substitution. Roy Keane, Lambert’s new assistant, simply laughed as Hughes, his former Manchester United team-mate, struggled with his temper.
Weimann’s goal came early in the second half. There was a fine build-up through midfield before the ball was played to Charles N’Zogbia, another player returning from a long absence, this time because of a ruptured Achilles. N’Zogbia turned superbly on the edge of the penalty area, only for Glenn Whelan to scoop the ball off his toes. The Stoke anchorman chipped the ball out to Weimann, wide on the right of the Stoke box. The Austrian’s first touch was poor but he responded by winning the ricochet off Marc Wilson and thrashing his shot across goal and into the far corner of the net.
With Christian Benteke due back from the ruptured Achilles injury that ruled him out of Belgium’s World Cup campaign before too long and Carlos Sanchez, the Colombia anchorman signed from Elche for £4.7 million, to integrate into the side, the tide may be turning for Lambert after two difficult seasons.
The Villa manager was not getting too carried away as he recalled last season’s opening win at Arsenal while praise was heaped on his team. “The same was said last year,” Lambert said. “Our season probably went into freefall after we beat Chelsea, when we were about 12th, and the injuries to Christian and Libor [Kozak] never helped us.
“This year is a totally different feeling. I thought we were outstanding and that we deserved to win the game.”
Having signed Victor Moses on loan for a season from Liverpool, Hughes admitted that Bojan had struggled on his Premier League debut. “It was important he got some game time,” the Stoke manager said. “He showed glimpses in some situations. We need to be able to find him in those areas more often. We need to play him in the right games against the right opposition to get the best out of him.”
Stoke City (4-2-3-1): Begovic; Bardsley, Shawcross, Wilson, Pieters; Whelan (Adam, 82), N’Zonzi; Bojan, Ireland, Arnautovic; Diouf (Crouch, 71).
Aston Villa (4-2-3-1): Guzan; Hutton, Vlaar, Senderos, Cissokho;Westwood, Delph; N’Zogbia (Grealish, 71), Richardson, Weimann (Bacuna, 83); Agbonlahor.
Referee: Anthony Taylor.
Man of the match: Kieran Richardson (Aston Villa).
Match rating: 6/10
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