STOKE CITY suffered a disappointing defeat on the opening day of the 2014/15 Barclays Premier League campaign as Midlands rivals Aston Villa claimed a narrow 1-0 victory at the Britannia Stadium.
Andreas Weimann delivered the killer bow to Mark Hughes’ side moments after the half-time interval as he struck home a powerful effort from 15-yards after the home side had failed to clear their lines.
For all of the Potters’ intricate and tidy play they were rarely able to trouble Villans stopper Brad Guzan, and even on the occasion he was forced into action the American had the answer to the question asked of him by debutant Phil Bardsley.
In fact, it was the visitors who could, and probably should, have added to their tally with Gabriel Agbonlahor spurning a guilt-edged opportunity during the opening 45 minutes of action, whilst substitute Leandro Bacuna fired over late on.
Prior to kick-off Hughes handed competitive debuts to three of his summer signings with Bojan, Mame Diouf and Bardsley all being included in the starting eleven having impressed throughout pre-season.
As expected Asmir Begovic retained the number one spot in goal following his exploits last season, and he ushered a back four that comprised of Bardsley, skipper Ryan Shawcross, Marc Wilson and Erik Pieters.
Republic of Ireland international Glenn Whelan and Steven Nzonzi occupied the two holding midfield spots with Stephen Ireland deployed in a more advanced position.
Marko Arnautovic started on the left hand side of a front three whilst former Barcelona star Bojan was named on the right. Mame Diouf spearheaded the side up front.
The electric atmosphere that swept around the stadium prior to kick-off undoubtedly filtered through to the home players, who looked determined to take the game to the visitors during the initial exchanges.
Nzonzi struck an effort straight at Guzan from distance five minutes in, rounding off a fluid passage of play, whilst Arnautovic rifled an effort over from 25-yards following more effective football through the middle of the pitch.
The first warning sign for the hosts came after a quarter of an hour as N’Zogbia dinked a delightful ball towards the back post, but thankfully for the Potters Pieters was on hand to glance the ball away from goal with Kieran Richardson ready to pounce a yard behind.
Having started the game exceptionally brightly, Stoke should have fallen behind midway through the opening half after Richardson nipped in-between Begovic and Wilson and squared the ball across to Gabriel Agbonlahor, who with the goal at his mercy, prodded his effort wide of a gaping net.
Whelan and Bojan saw long-range efforts drift past the post as they looked to spark a bit of magic into the game, but it was teammate Bardsley who went closest to netting with a thumping effort from 20-yards that Guzan did well to block down to his right on the stroke of half-time.
The second period was just five minutes old when Paul Lambert’s side netted their first goal of the new campaign – in circumstances that will undoubtedly have frustrated Hughes.
A deep centre from the Villa left broke for Austrian international Weimann 12-yards from goal, and despite his initial effort being blocked by Wilson, the ball remained in play and the forward reacted quickest to turn and plant a superb effort into the far corner of the net.
The hosts were very nearly straight back on level terms when their first real surge forward in the second half saw Bojan find space for himself inside the penalty area, only to then see his goal-bound effort blocked by the brave Ron Vlaar.
Diouf will have felt aggrieved not to have at least tested Guzan when Ireland’s floating corner landed straight in his path, whilst Bojan and Arnautovic both delayed firing at goal, allowing Philippe Senderos the chance to clear the danger.
Hughes thrust Peter Crouch and Charlie Adam onto the field in a final bid to claim at least a point from the encounter, and whilst the pair did rejuvenate the hosts, a second goal of the afternoon remained elusive.