Stoke 2-1 Aston Villa: Marko Arnautovic scores twice
By Raz Mirza
Last Updated: 28/02/16 11:46am
Stoke boosted their bid for a top 10 finish and dented Aston Villa's slim hopes of survival as Marko Arnautovic helped them to a 2-1 win at the Britannia Stadium.
Following a lacklustre opening 45 minutes, Arnautovic celebrated his 100th appearance for the club by smashing home from the penalty spot after Ashley Westwood's clumsy challenge on Phil Bardsley.
And they soon doubled their advantage with Austria international Arnautovic making the most of Xherdan Shaqiri's cross by chesting the ball over the line.
Leandro Bacuna set up a grandstand finish after firing home with 11 minutes remaining, but an equaliser never looked likely and the defeat, Villa's 10th away from home in the league this season, leaves them nine points adrift of safety with only 11 games remaining to salvage their top-flight status.
Bojan had to make do with a place on the bench with Ibrahim Afellay preferred by City boss Mark Hughes.
Marc Muniesa (hamstring), Glen Johnson (knee) and captain Ryan Shawcross (back) were ruled out, but Phil Bardsley (hip) and Geoff Cameron (ankle) were passed fit and made the starting line-up.
Remi Garde dropped skipper Micah Richards to the bench which meant a return to action for full-back Alan Hutton as they looked to put in a much-improved performance from the 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Liverpool last time out - the club's worst home loss in 81 years.
Rudy Gestede and Gabby Agbonlahor were fit again, with the former on the bench, but an ailing defence knew they were going to be tested by a Stoke side bolstered by new arrival Giannelli Imbula from Porto.
And the £18.3m signing was looking the part for the hosts, who were aiming to complete a Premier League double over Villa.
They came within inches of breaking the deadlock in the only real chance of the first half after just seven minutes as Villa goalkeeper Mark Bunn was forced into making a superb acrobatic save.
Afellay's cross from the right took a nasty deflection off Jores Okore and looked to be looping into the top corner until Bunn showed great agility to claw the ball away from under his own crossbar.
Villa's good defensive work was undone at the beginning of the second half. Six minutes after the restart Ashley Westwood brought down Bardsley with a clumsy challenge following a clever lofted reverse pass by the influential Shaqiri.
Arnautovic celebrated his 100th appearance with a no-nonsense penalty, drilling it high down the middle of the goal past Bunn.
The Potters doubled their advantage five minutes later and Arnautovic was at it again. His header from Afellay's cross looped up in the air but the Austrian reacted quickest to chest the ball over the line from a yard out.
It was Arnautovic's sixth Premier League goal at the Britannia this season; twice as many as any other Stoke player.
Villa set up a grandstand finish with 11 minutes remaining when the ball fell kindly to Bacuna and he hit a shot across Jack Butland and into the far corner of the net from the right side of the penalty area.
Bunn was forced to dive at full stretch to push away a header from Okore in the dying minutes as the hosts held on for victory.
Villa manager Garde has won just three of his 19 games since replacing the sacked Tim Sherwood in November and his troubled club look destined to drop into the second tier for the first time since 1988.
Soccer Saturday verdict - Phil Thompson
Stoke's fans were probably looking at this game thinking it would be comfortable, but it was poor from both sides right up to half-time.
I don't think Butland made a save in the first half, but Villa would have been happy at the break. Hughes probably had a right go at his players and Villa could only hold on for six minutes.
Shaqiri had a hand in both goals, but the second is absolutely shambolic from Villa's point of view. Bunn ends up in the back of the net and everybody watches the ball as it hits Arnautovic on the chest. It was a poor game all round but Hughes will be delighted with the win.
Stoke City: Butland (7), Bardsley (8), Cameron (7), Wollscheid (7), Pieters (7), Whelan (6), Imbula (8), Walters (8), Afellay (8), Shaqiri (8), Arnautovic (9).
Subs: Joselu (6), Bojan (6), Diouf (5).
Aston Villa: Bunn (7), Hutton (6), Okore (7), Lescott (7), Cissokho (6), Bacuna (7), Gueye (6), Westwood (5), Gil (5), Agbonlahor (7), Veretout (4).
Subs: Sinclair (7), Gestede (6).
Man of the match: Marko Arnautovic