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Stoke 1-3 Aston Villa

Updated: Saturday, 06 Apr 2013 17:08 | Comments

Ryan Shotton of Stoke City competes with Gabriel Agbonlahor of Aston Villa
Ryan Shotton of Stoke City competes with Gabriel Agbonlahor of Aston Villa

A stunning late strike from Matthew Lowton and an injury-time Christian Benteke goal boosted Aston Villa's survival hopes at the expense of 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 3-1 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 Pulis' men just one point above Villa and with only one win in 13 games.

Pulis had changed his attack in the hope of halting this alarming dip, dropping Peter Crouch and Cameron Jerome to the bench and pairing Jon Walters and Kenwyne Jones up front.

Yet aside from the opening moments, it was not a change that appeared to work as 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 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.

Whether awarding a spot-kick or not might have been harsh on Baker, it was still a let-off for the defender, whose shaky start continued as Jones muscled past only to blaze over.

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 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.

Agbonlahor ran into more space after Stoke gave the ball away just before the half-hour but the striker took a heavy touch attempting to round Begovic and was booked after a theatrical late fall.

Stoke managed to toughen up before the break but created no meaningful opportunities and were booed off by a concerned crowd at half-time.

Those worries may have increased after the restart as Benteke managed to find Bowery but Begovic was not troubled by his long-range shot.

Bowery beat Marc Wilson to create another opportunity but failed to hit the target.

A badly misplaced pass by Wilson brought more boos but it soon became apparent the Republic of Ireland international was injured and he hobbled off.

Pulis took the opportunity to strengthen his attack but ignored the claims of former England pair Michael Owen and Crouch on the bench and sent on 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.

Jones eventually managed to find an opening but his powerful shot struck Baker on the side of the head and the Villa defender needed a moment to regain his composure.

Jones found space in front of goal after play restarted but fluffed his shot after being picked out by Jerome.

Stoke reverted to type in the hope of troubling Villa as a long Ryan Shotton throw gave Brad Guzan some concern but the goalkeeper was impeded.

Nevertheless, it was Stoke's 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.

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