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18:33 19th December 2009

Aston Villa 1 Stoke City 0

STOKE CITY slipped to a narrow defeat at Villa Park in extremely controversial circumstances.

John Carew's second half header was enough to secure the hosts all three points from an entertaining encounter, but that came after referee Lee Probert had harshly ruled out what appeared to be a fine goal from Malian star Mamady Sidibe.

The powerful striker headed home Matthew Etherington's deep cross after beating Stephen Warnock to the ball, however, much to the displeasure of the City players it was ruled out for an apparent foul on the Villa defender.

City pushed forward throughout the second half and made Martin O'Neill's side, who are chasing a Champions League spot, look extremely ordinary. Both Tuncay and Glenn Whelan went agonisingly close to securing the visitors a point, but it wasn't to be as Villa stood firm and nervously held on for all three points.

Ahead of the game, Tony Pulis made four changes to his line up from the one which claimed a point against Wigan seven days ago.

Ryan Shawcross was ruled out through injury, meaning Danny Higginbotham deputised in the absence of the England Under-21 star, whilst Robert Huth's suspension paved the way for a return to the starting eleven for Danny Collins.

Elsewhere, Rory Delap was dropped down to the bench with last year's Villa Park hero Whelan replacing him, whilst the City boss also opted to thrust Sidibe up front along with Tuncay meaning Ricardo Fuller had to settle for a spot on the bench.

The visitors kicked the game off looking to end the hosts eight match unbeaten run at Villa Park, but as could be expected it was Martin O'Neill's side who looked the brighter of the two teams during the initial exchanges.

In-form James Milner, who has been a revelation since switching to the heart of midfield, was first to test the Potters' backline with a powerful surge forward, but after laying off to Stiliyan Petrov, his effort flew well wide of Thomas Sorensen's right hand post.

Their early assault on the Potters' penalty area continued and they should have been ahead when Sorensen palmed Stewart Downing's effort straight into the path of Gabby Agbonlahor, but with the goal at his mercy he fired his effort from seven-yards straight at the City keeper.

O'Neill received a blow midway through the first half when Emile Heskey limped off with what looked to have been a groin strain, and he responded by introducing Carew, who would ultimately go on to head home the all-important goal.

But before that, City soon began to demonstrate why many pundits are tipping them to steer clear of any relegation fears. Tuncay, who caused the Villa backline problems throughout, linked up well with Sidibe before freeing Dean Whitehead, but his effort was weak and Brad Friedel comfortably gathered.

City then appeared to draw first blood through Sidibe shortly before the interval, but it was disappointingly ruled out by the referee. That didn't disrupt City's fluency though, and they continued to look the more likely of the two sides to break the deadlock.

Whelan flashed an effort just wide after great play by Tuncay, before Villa went close right on the stroke of half-time with a deflected effort from Carew, which looped just wide of Sorensen's right hand post after Higginbotham did just enough to put off the giant Norwegian.

Neither side made any changes during the interval and when the game got back underway, it was the Potters who continued from where they left off at the end of the first period.

Etherington used his pace to dispossess Luke Young before setting off on a darting run down the flank and firing across a dangerous ball which was brilliantly cleared by Richard Dunne, with Sidibe breathing down his neck.

Turkey skipper Tuncay then danced his way through three Villa defenders before smashing the ball across the six-yard box, but agonisingly, no City player was on hand to turn the ball into an empty net.

Minutes later at the other end, Carew spurned a good opportunity for the hosts as he blazed over after Milner had exquisitely picked him out inside the penalty area.

The industrious Andy Wilkinson then saw a powerful effort diverted just over the bar by the out-stretched leg of Dunne, before Whelan lashed a stinging effort inches over the crossbar after Villa had failed to clear their lines from the resulting corner.

Villa's backs were well and truly against the wall, so when Carew latched onto Ashley Young's pinpoint ball into the penalty area to head the hosts ahead it came as a huge blow to the Potters' players and supporters.

But, to their credit and in typical City fashion they refused to crumble, and continued to push forward in search of an avenue back into the contest; one which very nearly came through Tuncay. The City star twisted and turned just outside the penalty and crashed an effort goalwards, only to see Dunne bravely block it inside the penalty area.

Pulis responded by introducing Rory Delap, James Beattie and Fuller in a last ditch attempt to snatch a point, but despite the best efforts of Fuller, who fired an effort just wide, and a goalmouth scramble, which almost resulted in Tuncay prodding home, Villa held firm to deny the Potters what would have been a thoroughly deserved point.

    Data provided by Press Association


    The Potters played out four replays to finally beat Bury in the FA Cup in 1955