STOKE CITY secured back-to-back wins for the second time this season with a superb 4-1 away victory at Aston Villa.
Goals from Peter Odemwingie, Peter Crouch, Steven Nzonzi and Geoff Cameron secured City their highest goalscoring return away from home in the Premier League since returning to the top flight in 2008 and also a league double over Villa this campaign.
The triumph was Stoke’s first at Villa Park since March 1988 and in the process lifted the Potters back into the top half of the league table with seven games remaining.
Mark Hughes made one change to his starting eleven as he was forced to shuffle his pack due to Stephen Ireland’s ineligibility and the Welshman chose Wilson Palacios to fill the void left by the 27-year-old, whilst Erik Pieters passed a late fitness test to take his place at left back.
It was Paul Lambert’s side who made the brighter start and their early pressure paid dividends as early as the fifth minute when they went in front, after Fabian Delph turned Cameron and raced to the byline before pulling it back to Benteke, who took a touch before blasting into the back of the net from 14 yards.
The home side continued to apply the pressure in the opening stages of the encounter and almost doubled their lead in the 10 minute when Gabby Agbonlahor fed Delph just inside the box and the midfielder’s cross to the far post was turned away by Cameron with Benteke breathing down his neck.
However City calmed the pace of the game down and gradually started to pen Villa back into their own half with the lively Odemwingie starting to influence proceedings.
He first slid in Arnautovic who had narrowly strayed offside inside the box, before the Nigerian international went close to drawing City back on level terms after weaving his way into the area but seeing his effort deflected away for a corner by a last-ditch challenge from Ron Vlaar.
The former West Bromwich Albion man wasn’t to be denied midway through the half though as he looped the ball into the path of Crouch, who headed it back into the path of the onrushing Odemwingie and the 32-year-old steadied himself before firing under Brad Guzan in the Villa goal from close range.
It was all one way traffic as the Potters attacked the Holte End and with their next meaningful attack City took the lead in superb fashion.
Erik Pieters battled for the ball with Leandro Bacuna on the Stoke left before crossing to Crouch positioned on the penalty spot and the former England international opened up is body before firing superbly into the back on the net from 12 yards.
Villa failed to really muster a response to falling behind with Agbonlahor blazing over from the edge-of-the-box and their misery was compounded three minutes before the break as the Potters extended their lead.
City broke and after Arnautovic had collected Odemwingie’s cross-field ball, the Austrian international laid it into Nzonzi who strode onto his pass and finished first time into the bottom right-hand corner from just outside the area.
The visitors were passing the ball around with real freedom as the half drew to a close but after a positive start to the second period, it was Villa who had the first meaningful chance however Cameron was on hand to thwart Benteke with a great challenge inside the area as the Belgian forward was about to shoot.
The pair were involved in the next passage of play seconds later when the ball was played into Benteke just inside the box and the forward went down under a challenge from the American defender but the referee deemed it not worthy of a penalty and booked the Villa marksman for his protestations.
It wasn’t long before the Potters were back in their stride and after Odemwingie forced Guzan into a smart save from distance after cutting in from the right, Nzonzi should have done better when he won possession deep inside the opposition half and screwed wide from the edge-of-the-area when he had better options positioned either side of him.
City continued to have the better of the chances as Arnautovic fired a free-kick over from 30 yards, before the attacker was played through by Nzonzi just inside the Villa half but he was adjudged to have peeled off the shoulder of the final defender too early by the assistant referee.
The Potters weren’t content however with three goals to their name and in the final minute of normal time added a fourth to the scoreline when Palacios threaded the ball into the channel for Arnautovic to race to the byline and pull it back to Cameron who had the simple task of firing in from close range and round off an exceptional away performance and result.