Villa claim vital victory
A stunning late strike from Matthew Lowton and an injury-time Christian Benteke goal boosted Aston Villa's survival hopes following a 3-1 win over free-falling Stoke.
The Potters had looked like slowing their recent slide as Michael Kightly cancelled out an early Gabriel Agbonlahor effort. But Lowton hit an unstoppable 30-yard volley to restore Villa's lead after 87 minutes and Benteke made sure of the points in injury time.
The victory will give Villa, having started the game in the bottom three, a huge lift but a crisis is growing for the Potters. Defeat left Tony Pulis' men just one point above Villa and with only one win in 13 games.
Villa bossed the first half and should have had more than a 1-0 lead at the break. It could have been different had the hosts been awarded the penalty they wanted after barely two minutes when Jonathan Walters smashed the ball into Nathan Baker's arm from close range. Referee Mark Clattenburg deemed the contact unintentional.
Stoke looked up for the fight but their optimism was pierced after just nine minutes as Lowton and Jordan Bowery combined from a throw-in to cut through the home defence. Lowton reached the byline all too easily and pulled back for Agbonlahor in front of goal and the striker rolled in at the second attempt after his initial effort was blocked.
The goal came against the run of play but it completely changed the game's momentum and Stoke had an escape when Robert Huth backed off and Bowery fired into the side-netting. Benteke shot at Asmir Begovic as Villa maintained the pressure and he seized possession soon after to race clear and find Agbonlahor, who side-footed wide.
The anxiety among the home fans was obvious and alarm bells were ringing again when Andreas Weimann broke clear and struck the post with a low shot Begovic may have brushed with his fingertips.
Pulis took the opportunity to strengthen his attack but ignored the claims of former England pair Michael Owen and Peter Crouch on the bench and sent on Cameron Jerome. That brought a change of shape but it was some time before it started to yield greater end product as Villa continued to dominate play in an increasingly scrappy contest.
However, Stoke started to enjoy their best spell of the game and, with confidence growing, Walters raced away down the left. He fed inside to Charlie Adam, who had been on the field just a matter of minutes, and he turn teed up half-time substitute Kightly to stab home. The equaliser transformed the atmosphere and the crowd finally began to find their voice.
But it was not to last as Lowton dramatically swung the game back in Villa's favour with a superb volley three minutes from time. The defender chested down an attempted clearance from a corner outside the box and fired back into the top corner. Home hopes were deflated and as the game ran towards injury time, Benteke raced through and calmly stroked the ball past Begovic for the third.