Carew heads Villa vital victory
John Carew`s second half header ensured that Villa`s impressive run continued with a one-nil win over the Potters. The Norwegian held off Abdoulaye Faye to nod in Ashley Young`s cross but Stoke will feel very aggrieved after replays show that the goal was very similar to Mama Sidibe`s ruled out effort.
Tony Pulis made 4 changes from the side that drew at home to Wigan last week. At the back Robert Huth was suspended after being handed a one match ban and so was replaced by Danny Higginbotham, who made a rare start. Danny Collins also returned to the side after Ryan Shawcross missed out due to injury and he partnered Ab Faye at centre half. Glenn Whelan, who scored a last minute equaliser in this fixture last season, replaced Rory Delap in midfield and Ricardo Fuller dropped to the bench in order to make way for Mama Sidibe to play alongside Tuncay.
Villa pushed early and Thomas Sorensen was called into action as he made a crucial double save to first deny Stewart Downing from 20 yards and then Gabby Agbonlahor on the follow up. The Dane looked in fine form following his in-different display last week.
The Potters then started to attack themselves as Tuncay combined with Sidibe to set-up Whitehead but his shot was comfortably saved by Friedel. Villa then suffered an injury blow as Emile Heskey was forced to come off after and was replaced by John Carew who was forced on to partner Agbonlahor upfront.
Stoke kept the pressure on the home side and it looked as if they took the lead before half-time. Sidibe used all his height and strength to power his header from a left-wing cross past Friedel but the referee wrongly ruled it out, as he punished big Mama for pushing the Villa defence while in the air.
Both sides created good opportunities in the second half but Stoke`s lack of goals started to become evident as they didn`t convert one of their decent chances. Andy Wilkinson and Glenn Whelan went close but it was Villa who broke the deadlock.
Against the run of play Ashley Young darted down the right hand side and planted a cross straight on the head of Carew who out muscled Faye and headed the ball into the back of the net. Carew wheeled away in delight at scoring in his 3rd consecutive game against the Potters and even gave the corner flag a boot before watching sail away into the crowd.
Tuncay and Etherington had good chances late on for the Potters but Villa held on to 4th in the table and cement their place in the top 4 for the time being. Stoke remain 11th but are now just 5 points ahead of the relegation zone but do have a game in hand. Next up for the Potters is a trip up to Eastland`s on Boxing Day to take on Roberto Mancini`s Manchester City in his first match in charge.