Stoke City have been dragged into the Premier League’s relegation battle, following a 3-1 loss at home to fellow strugglers Aston Villa.
What was Stoke’s loss doubled as Villa’s gain, as the Birmingham-based club climbed out of the bottom three – moving to 33 points, three ahead of 18th-placed Wigan.
Stoke are just one point ahead of Villa, and have won only one of their past 13 league outings, leaving them entrenched in a survival battle.
Villa took an early lead at the Britannia Stadium through Gabriel Agbonlahor who opened the scoring to equal Dwight Yorke’s record of 60 PL goals.
Michael Kightly looked set to give Tony Pulis’ side a valuable point with his equaliser with 10 minutes remaining, but a quickfire double from Matthew Lowton and Christian Benteke gave the visitors a priceless victory to drag Stoke into the relegation mix.
Lowton’s goal to regain the lead for Villa in the 87th minute will go down as one of the goals of the season, after he chested down a Stoke clearance onto his right boot – firing a long-range volley into the top-left corner to send the visitors into raptures.
Villa boss Paul Lambert made two changes to the side that lost at home to Liverpool last week with Fabian Delph and Jordan Bowery introduced in a changed formation, while the return of Matthew Etherington from a back injury offered width in midfield for the home side.
The Villans, who entered the crucial fixture having never claimed victory at the Britannia Stadium in the Premier League, started the game on the back-foot when an appeal for handball against Nathan Baker inside the opening minutes was turned down by referee Mark Clattenburg.
Despite a positive start for Stoke, it was Aston Villa who opened the scoring on nine minutes with their first attempt on goal, when Agbonlahor calmly slotted the ball past Asmir Begovic inside the six yard box at the second time of asking.
The early goal saw the control of possession switch into the hands of the visitors who soon settled into the contest, and Andreas Weimann came closest to doubling the lead on the half hour mark – his shot tipped onto the post via a fingertip save from Begovic.
The Stoke goalkeeper was involved again minutes later when Agbonlahor fell to the ground after Begovic’s challenge inside the penalty area, however the striker was instead handed a booking for simulation.
The home side – who were booed off the pitch at half-time – made a second-half change with Kightly coming on for Etherington, yet Pulis’ side started the second period in much of the same vain when Bowery easily rolled the Stoke defence only to see his shot saved by the home side’s keeper.
Second-half substitute Cameron Jerome provided a much-needed injection of enthusiasm in attack but the side with the lowest goal tally in the division failed to draw a meaningful save from Brad Guzan in the away goal.
Yet with 10 minutes remaining, Stoke’s fortunes seemed to turn when Kightly scored the equaliser inside the penalty area after a strong period of possession for the home side.
Stoke looked set to hold on for a vital point in their bid for Premier League survival but a stunning goal from Lowton and a fourth goal in as many games for Benteke pushed Lambert’s side out of the relegation zone.