VICTOR MOSES’ dramatic stoppage time penalty secured Stoke City maximum spoils from Saturday’s local derby showdown with Aston Villa.
The on-loan Chelsea forward firstly won the spot-kick with a superb run and then displayed incredible composure to dispatch it into the bottom right hand corner of the net.
The Nigerian’s late effort ensured a frustrating afternoon for Villa boss Tim Sherwood, who was overseeing his first game in charge following his appointment as manager last week.
The former Spurs manager looked on course for a perfect opening home game after his side took the lead courtesy of a well-taken header from Scott Sinclair on the 20 minute mark.
Just as the Villans looked set to close out the opening 45 minutes with a narrow lead in hand up popped Mame Diouf, who planted a stunning header into the back of the net after leaping highest to meet Stephen Ireland’s pinpoint delivery.
The goal rejuvenated the Potters and you could sense that should a third goal of the afternoon be scored during the second 45 minutes, then the visitors were far more likely to net it than the hosts.
That is exactly how it panned out with Moses firing home the match-winning effort with incredible calmness three minutes into stoppage time.
Prior to kick-off Mark Hughes was handed a major boost with the news that a quartet of his injured players had passed late fitness tests to take their places amongst the starting elven.
Jonathan Walters, Erik Pieters, Marc Wilson and the more creative Ireland were all named in the side as the Welshman seeked an immediate response to last weekend’s 4-1 FA Cup defeat by Blackburn.
The opening half of the clash was tense and nervy and you could sense that neither side wanted to fall behind to the other, such is the importance of that opening goal in top-flight games.
Both sides had half opportunities with Moses stinging the fingertips of Guzan from distance whilst Christian Benteke will feel aggrieved not to have made contact with Sinclair’s clever ball across the 6-yard box.
The winger took matters into his own hands soon after by glancing Carles Gil’s swinging centre into the far corner of the net to give his side the lead in what was his first league start since arriving from Manchester City last month.
The goal breathed fresh life into the hope of Villa supporters, who had begun to grow frustrated at their side’s misdemeanours in recent weeks and months.
Sherwood will feel his side should have shut up shop and took the narrow lead into the break, but having been caught out in an advanced position a superb break at the other end culminated in Stoke levelling the match up.
Walters, who produced yet another tireless display up front and then later on out wide, laid off Ireland, he swung a delicious ball into the danger zone, Diouf rose high and powered his effort home to send the travelling 1600 or so Stokies into delirium.
You could sense the frustrations amongst home supporters having surrendered a lead at a crucial point of the match, and then once the second half got underway then there was only one team who looked likely to win it.
Hughes’ half-time chat was made all the more easier given Diouf’s effort late on, and you could see the determination in his players’ eyes to go on and claim maximum spoils for a second successive year at Villa Park.
Whelan cut a possessed figure in central midfield, challenging for every ball and more often than not coming out of those battles with the ball intact.
The Republic of Ireland international, together with midfield partner Steven Nzonzi, were sublime.
Their energy set the tempo for a far more attack-minded second half, and only the fingertips of Guzan denied Walters from hooking the ball home from a tight angle midway through the half.
Whelan himself let fly a thumping effort of his own from 25-yards, reminiscent of the strike he scored in the same goal during the 2008/09 campaign when he helped his side claw back from two goals down to claim a point.
Unfortunately, the midfielder’s strike wasn’t quite up to the same standards as it drifted off target, before Walters tried his best to redirect the effort goalwards.
At the other end a rare Villa foray forward resulted in Asmir Begovic producing a stunning save to tip a goal-bound header over the bar, moments after Benteke had looped an effort high and wide from a good position.
Diouf was lively up front having been switched from the right hand side of midfield, and he was brought down on several occasions just as he looked set to burn the heels and create an opportunity for himself in the final third.
As the clock began to tick towards the game’s climax Ireland curled an effort into the hands of Guzan from range – and a point apiece appeared to be the forthcoming outcome.
Well it did until the Potters were handed a penalty and Villa were reduced to ten men after Ron Vlaar, the last man, brought down Moses, who was clear through on goal.
Up stepped the Nigerian, under intense pressure, and slotted the ball into the bottom corner of the net to secure his side a fifth league victory on the road this season – a new Premier League Club record.