Stoke edge ahead of Villa in battle for number 10

Mark Hughes’s side aiming for best Premier League finish

Peter Crouch’s  shot deflects into the goal off  Peter Odemwingie for  Stoke City’s first goal in their Premier League game against  Aston Villa at Villa Park. Photograph:  Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Peter Crouch’s shot deflects into the goal off Peter Odemwingie for Stoke City’s first goal in their Premier League game against Aston Villa at Villa Park. Photograph: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

 

Aston Villa 1 Stoke City 4: They only have seven games left, but as things stand Stoke City are on track to win the league – Mark Hughes’ imaginary league, that is. The Welshman is aiming to finish in 10th, which they now occupy at the expense of Aston Villa, for what would be his club’s best finish in the Premier League.

On the face of it, goals from Peter Odemwingie, Peter Crouch, Steven Nzonzi and Geoff Cameron did the damage here, though a quick post-mortem by Paul Lambert will reveal that his side were undone by their own shoddy defending.

Villa were chasing a third straight home league win for the first time in six and a half years. Christian Benteke’s early goal had given them great hope of achieving that ambition but by half-time they had conceded three times and were duly booed off.

Stoke were forced to play without Stephen Ireland, the former Villa player, due to a clause in his contract, while Karim El Ahmadi, the victim of the horrific tackle by Chelsea’s Ramires last weekend, was fit enough to start for the home side.

Benteke’s fifth-minute goal was a neat side-footed finish after Fabian Delph had supplied the destructive pass. Stoke’s defending was softer than marshmallow: Geoff Cameron was turned far too easily and the space afforded to Benteke was criminal. In many ways it was a mirror of the goal Stoke later scored to take the lead in the 26th minute. Erik Pieters’s delivery from the byline found Crouch, who side-footed smartly into the top of the net, but Marko Arnautovic lacked the resilience needed to fend off Pieters in the first place.

Stoke’s first goal had come from Odemwingie four minutes earlier. He burst into the penalty area and was allowed to tuck a low shot under the goalkeeper, with the referee, Mark Clattenburg, rightly waving away suspicions of handball in the build-up.

Their third arrived just before half-time after a string of unchallenged passes. Ultimately Arnautovic’s slide-rule delivery should have been intercepted by Nathan Baker but the Villa defender could only divert it with his heels toward the unmarked Nzonzi, who pinged his shot into the far corner of the net.

Benteke had a penalty appeal turned down in the second half before Cameron slotted home Stoke’s fourth late on as Villa were exposed again.

(Guardian Service)

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