I can`t believe I`m saying this, but clinical finishing was the difference between Stoke and Aston Villa at Saturdays game at the Britannia Stadium. Home goals from the inspired Charlie Adam, and Peter Crouch cancelled out Libor Kozak`s leveller in the second half. Stoke came into the game only losing once all season, and that was in September. On the other hand, the Villains were looking to end a run of losing in the last 2 games.
In a first half void of any real Stoke chances, Aston villa took the initiative. Early efforts from Nathan Baker and Aleksandar Tonev were easily dismissed by Bosnian international Asmir Begovic. After these early efforts came the controversial moment of the match. An awful touch from Stoke defender Marc Wilson freed Andreas Weimann to go one-on-one with Begovic, only for Wilson to hack the striker down. Villa pleaded for a red card, but referee Craig Pawson had already decided on a yellow. Pawson had decided Weimann was running away from goal, leaving the home side feeling relieved, and the visitors aggrieved. It was a decision which could have easily gone in Paul Lambert`s way, had the game been played at Villa Park.
The second half was an entirely different game. A dismal Marko Arnautovic was taken off, in place of Charlie Adam. In my eyes, Adam was the difference in the game. Hughes` inspired substitution certainly paid off on the 50th minute, as a long ball forward was nodded down to the Scotsman`s feet, and he turned and fired home past Guzan to give the home fans something to shout about.
Stoke`s lead only lasted 16 minutes, when Kozak capitalised on a defensive howler from Erik Pieters. The Dutchman has been as solid as a rock in Stoke`s defence this season, however he went to head a ball back to Begovic, and it fell short to the hungry Kozak who slotted past the Stoke keeper with ease.
Normality was resumed though 4 minutes later, when a wonderful cross from Geoff Cameron wasn`t dealt with by Guzan, and it left Peter Crouch with the freedom of Stoke on Trent to slot home easily from 2 yards. The Potters were back on top, and it was a goal that Crouch deserved. The talismanic striker won every ball in the air, his passing was a joy to behold. Myself and editor Lloyd Reddin agreed that Crouch has been a different player since scoring against Manchester United in the 3-2 loss at Old Trafford, and this game cemented that claim.
Crouch could have also had a second with a cheeky backheel, but his effort struck the post as the Villa players shouted at Sian Massey for an offside call. The day however, was Stoke`s. Leaving Villa in trouble, losing 3 games on the bounce before Christmas.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Craig Pawson had a fantastic game. Extremely fair to both sides, and the only real talking point was to do with Marc Wilson’s tackle. Fantastic work from the Assistants as well, can’t think of a single decision that either of them got wrong.