Aston Villa 1 Stoke City 0: match report
The usual panache may have been absent but securing victories without particularly playing well is a habit Aston Villa would be happy to embrace even on a mildly addictive level. After spectacular away wins over Manchester United and Sunderland, the defeat of Stoke City at Villa Park, while less impressive, was nevertheless the culmination of a fine week's work for Martin O'Neill's men. Liverpool v Aston Villa previewWest Ham Transfer TalkThe three points represented a fourth consecutive league win, each one without conceding a goal, a consistency confirmed by an unchanged side during those matches. That sequence has seen Villa's stock rise appreciably as the most realistic gate-crashers of the Premier League's elite party of four and United's surprising loss at Fulham combined with Liverpool's demise at Portsmouth has perhaps even raised those expectations. Substitute John Carew, who had replaced the injured Emile Heskey in the first half, scored the deciding goal that was crafted from the game's most fluent move just after the hour mark. Full back Luke Young and Stewart Downing weaved a zig-zag pattern across the width of the pitch before Ashley Young delivered a trademark centre from the right deep into the six- yard box where the big Norway centre forward met it with a powerful header beyond Thomas Sorensen. His celebration, kicking over a corner flag that bounced up in the Holte End of the ground that endangered a young fan, was not his finest hour but Carew was swift to apologise and handed his shirt to the youngster as recompense at the final whistle. 'You could not help but like John,' said O'Neill. 'He was genuinely concerned. But considering the week we have had, I thought this was our best display of the season and I'm absolutely delighted for the players.' Stoke could claim that their cause was hindered by referee Lee Probert who disallowed Mamady Sibide's headed effort at the far post for a push on Stephen Warnock although there appeared minimal contact as the Stoke player climbed to convert Matthew Etherington's centre. 'The Sidibe goal was an injustice,' said Stoke manager Tony Pulis. 'It was a very poor decision but we take it on the chin and move on. The biggest disappointment was that we had lots of opportunities and never hit the target.' Indeed Stoke seemed more likely to succeed as they increased the tempo after the interval and only some errant finishing from Etherington and Tuncay allied to dogged Villa defending maintained the status quo. However, Steve Sidwell had an opportunity to double the advantage, the midfield player's 20-yard shot arrowing narrowly wide of the left hand post when Agbonlahor had teed him up.
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