Stoke City 0 Aston Villa 1
Alan Hutton's impressive first competitive game for Paul Lambert after two years in the wilderness could point to a turnaround in Aston Villa's fortunes.
The Scotland right-back was one of the “bomb squad” whom Lambert agreed to leave out since taking over in the summer of 2012 as Villa looked to cut costs and build a lean and hungry line-up.
But having failed to lever Hutton off the wage bill, and with Villa now making the here and now a priority, the manager has reintegrated the 29-year-old into a new, far more experienced defensive unit.
Capitalising on Andreas Weimann’s goal early in the second half, Ron Vlaar, the only survivor of last season’s back four, continued where he left off in helping Holland finish third in the World Cup and his final-whistle embrace with Philippe Senderos, equally impressive alongside him on his debut, reflected the determination to make Villa sturdy again.
Aly Cissokho completed a resolute rearguard action.
“It’s unbelievable to come here and get the three points and obviously a second debut for myself is brilliant,” Hutton said.
Mark Hughes is in the process of making his team more expansive but even so, only the top five sides in the Premier League had better home records than Stoke last season, so Villa's first win on the road since January 1st, ending a run of six straight away defeats, was all the more commendable.
Stoke’s Bojan Krkic had a difficult debut, although Erik Pieters guaranteed the former Barcelona forward “will create chances for us... he is really creative and a clever player”.
But the left-back warned: “You don’t have time to gel. It’s the Premier League and you have to be there at the start. If not, you have to look in the mirror and say you have to do better.”