Aston Villa escapes relegation zone with 3-1 win at Stoke
Aston Villa improved their chances of avoiding relegation as they climbed out of the bottom three after a dramatic 3-1 win at Stoke City on Saturday.
Paul Lambert’s team kicked off at the Britannia Stadium third from bottom of the Premier League and looked set for a frustrating draw after Gabriel Agbonlahor’s opener was cancelled out by Michael Kightly’s late equaliser.
But young defender Matthew Lowton produced a stunning strike with three minutes remaining before a stoppage-time goal from Christian Benteke sealed a vital victory.
Villa are now three points above the drop zone, while slumping Stoke are only one point better off as their miserable run extended to one win in 13 games.
It could have been different had Stoke been awarded the penalty they wanted after barely two minutes when Jon Walters smashed the ball into Nathan Baker’s arm from close range.
Referee Mark Clattenburg deemed the contact unintentional, much to Potters boss Tony Pulis’ obvious disgust on the sidelines.
Stoke looked up for the fight at that point 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 anxiety among the home fans was obvious and alarm bells were ringing again when Villa forward Andreas Weimann broke clear and struck the post with a low shot.
Villa couldn’t turn their first-half dominance into further goals and Pulis sent on Kightly and Cameron Jerome after the break as he looked to revitalise his side.
Stoke were beginning to push Villa back when Kenwyne Jones found space in front of goal after play restarted but fluffed his shot after being picked out by Jerome.
It was Stoke’s best spell of the game and, with confidence growing, the hosts drew level in the 80th minute.
Walters passed inside to Charlie Adam, who had been on the field just a matter of minutes, and he teed up Kightly to stab home.
But Stoke were level for only seven minutes as Lowton chested the ball down and fired a superb volley into the top corner from the edge of the area to put Villa back in front.
Benteke guaranteed Villa would take the points when he raced through and calmly stroked his shot past Asmir Begovic in the final moments.