Hello, and welcome to Sports Mole
's live coverage of the match in the Premier League between Stoke City
and Aston Villa
There are just 12 games remaining in the Premier League this season and week by week, the pressure is intensifying on each of the 20 clubs as they look to achieve their targets. That scenario is no different at the Britannia Stadium this afternoon as Stoke and Villa go head to head. The visitors need three points more than their hosts, but expect Stoke to make a late-season charge as they target a spot in Europe next season.
Before we continue taking a look at today's game in Staffordshire, let me point you in the direction of our live text commentary
of the match between West Ham United and Sunderland. The Hammers are currently leading 1-0 in that one.
The team news is in from the Britannia Stadium. Expecting many changes?
STOKE CITY XI: Butland, Bardsley, Cameron, Wollscheid, Pieters, Whelan, Imbula, Arnautovic, Afellay, Shaqiri, Walters
STOKE CITY SUBSTITUTES: Haugaard, Ireland, Joselu, Teixeira, Diouf, Crouch, Bojan
ASTON VILLA XI: Bunn, Hutton, Okore, Lescott, Cissohko, Gana, Westwood, Bacuna, Gil, Veretout, Agbonlahor
ASTON VILLA SUBSTITUTES: Guzan, Richards, Clark, Sinclair, Green, Lyden, Gestede
It has been well documented that Stoke are struggling for fit defenders and that has shown in Mark Hughes's team selection. He has managed to find four defensive players for his backline, but the bench includes five offensive-minded players. Whether they are behind or in front, it's going to be difficult for Hughes to shut up shop this afternoon!
As for Villa, boss Remi Garde has opted to name the likes of Micah Richards and Rudy Gestede on the bench. The aim looks to get Gabriel Agbonlahor in behind the Stoke defence to stretch the play. Whether that will work, who knows.
HEAD TO HEAD! This afternoon's fixture represents the 115th time that the two clubs have met in competitive matches. Villa have won 51 of those matches, with Stoke emerging victorious on just 33 occasions. Interestingly, despite the demise of Villa over recent years, they have lost just once on their last four visits to the Britannia Stadium. Maybe the result of this game isn't a foregone conclusion after all...
However, it is worth noting that Villa have won just one of their last five meetings with Stoke. In recent years, Stoke have prevailed in important fixtures at Villa Park, and that might just give them the edge this afternoon. Either way, both teams can take some degree of confidence into this match. They haven't enjoyed the best of times recently, but they cannot afford to dwell on recent results.
The Stoke players have just made their way out for the warm-up. I can't remember seeing Peter Crouch run so fast. It's a cold, blustery day in the Potteries.
I mentioned earlier about the recent form of both sides, but Stoke can at least look to their 3-1 victory away at Bournemouth as a sign that they may have turned a corner. Before then, they had suffered three consecutive 3-0 defeats, but they were clinical on the South Coast two weeks ago. What will be important this afternoon is how they cope with their lack of numbers in defence. Villa have been poor in the final third all season, but they might have that little bit of encouragement given Stoke's make-shift back four.
Before the defeat to Liverpool two weeks ago, it had appeared that Villa were on the up. They had recorded eight points from five games in the Premier League and the players looked like they believed in their survival hopes, but they effectively hit rock bottom again after shipping six goals in front of their home fans. It was a performance that lacked any fight or desire to hit back from going a goal behind early in the game and on other day, Liverpool could have hit double figures. The players owe Remi Garde a performance this afternoon and it really is sink or swim time for the Birmingham-based club.
The full-time whistle has gone in the match between West Ham United and Sunderland. Catch our match report here
With Sunderland falling to defeat, Villa can get to within four points of the Black Cats this afternoon. It may not seem that significant, but victory at the Britannia would at least get their relegation rivals looking over their shoulders.
PREDICTION! Stoke may be decimated at the back but we see them having far too much for Villa this afternoon. They have already defeated the likes of Manchester City and Manchester United at home this campaign, and we are predicting another fast start to a match will prove decisive here. Stoke to win 3-1.
The two teams are out at the Britannia Stadium. We are almost ready to get underway.
Stoke get the game started in the Potteries.
Decent start from the visitors, who put together a neat move in the final third through Veretout and Agbonlahor but the final pass is overhit and Stoke reclaim possession.
We've got a break in play here after a collision between Pieters and Bacuna. The Stoke defender is currently receiving treatment. We should expect quite a bit of added-on time already!
Regardless of the pattern of play, I think Stoke are always going to be a threat in this match, but it's Villa who have started the brighter. Agbonlahor gets down the flank before crossing into the middle, but Stoke are able to get the ball clear.
SAVE! After saying that, Stoke nearly take the lead! It would have been in fortuitous circumstances, however. A cross from Afellay took a big deflection off Okore, and Bunn has required to step back to turn the ball over the crossbar. That could have gone anywhere.
SHOT! That's a tad ambitious from Shaqiri but when you possess his ability, I don't suppose you can question him. The Swiss winger stepped up to take a free kick from 35 yards out but it was never threatening a goal, with the ball going a couple of yards wide of the target.
It's been a decent start at the Britannia. Villa could do with getting a hold of the ball again, though. Stoke are threatening to dominate this game.
Arnautovic has been relatively quiet since the opening whistle but he shows his ability on the flank before delivering the ball into the middle. Lescott was there to make the intervention but Villa are starting to drop a little deeper.
Villa attempt to break the sequence of Stoke possession by setting up Gil for a speculative effort on goal, but it was high, wide and not very handsome. The Spaniard will hope to do better with his next attempt because that was abysmal.
We are still awaiting our first goal in the 3pm kickoffs in the Premier League. Maybe it is going to be one of those days...
CHANCE! Stoke win another corner, and waste half a chance to go ahead in this match. Shaqiri delivered the ball to the back post but Cameron go only volley over the crossbar.
Back come Villa through Cissohko, but his cross into the middle cannot find a teammate. This is turning out to be a lot more competitive than I predicted. Garde has already got more out of his players than he did for the entire 90 minutes against Liverpool.
Villa win a free kick from a threatening position but Gil's set piece is cleared by Wollscheid. The Villa playmaker isn't have much luck so far this afternoon.
More half-chances for the away side, although in truth, they were never going to beat Butland. Firstly, Westwood drilled a shot off target from distance before Gil fired wide after the ball had fell to him invitingly.
BLOCK! Villa looked as if they were readying themselves to seize the initiative, but they are only on level terms thanks to a terrific block from Okore, who slid in at the last moment to prevent Afellay from scoring for thei second successive game. That could be a big moment.
We are still awaiting our first goal in the Premier League. Surely someone must score before half time?
There's been a lull in the action over the course of the last five minutes. Both teams have offered plenty of endeavour since kickoff so it's not really a surprise. Villa will be looking to get into half time without conceding.
BOOKING! The first yellow card of the afternoon goes to Gueye, who lunged in on Pieters on the edge of the box. The resulting set piece is decent but Cissohko meets the ball and heads behind for a corner.
Villa have their back to the wall here. Stoke aren't creating too many opportunities but the pressure is building before the break. Lescott has to be alert to clear the danger after a slip from Veretout.
I am probably exaggerating here but Cissohko is showing the kind of form that earned him moves to Porto, Lyon and Valencia. Not for the first time today, he sends an excellent cross into the middle but there is no Villa player there to take advantage. Makes you wonder whether Gestede would have been in a better position had he been selected...
YELLOW CARD! Hutton goes into the book for time-wasting. Bit harsh, but it shows that Villa are perhaps looking to get to half time without conceding. There will be two minutes of added-on time.
Vereout is provided with the chance to get a shot in on goal just before the whistle, but he drags it wide after gettong the better of Cameron. He should have done better there. Neither goalkeeper has had a save to make, aside from Bunn's intervention from a cross.
HALF TIME: Stoke City 0-0 Aston Villa
The half-time whistle goes at the Britannia Stadium and we remain goalless. Despite the lack of shots on target, it's been a competitive, enjoyable game, but both sides need to up it after the restart.
The two teams are heading back to the most uninspiring music you have ever heard. I don't think it's going to lift either side.
Villa get us back underway.
It's been a slow start to the second half but Arnautovic shows some attacking intent with a driving run towards the penalty area but his cross is over-hit.
A minute later, it's the turn of Afellay, who weaves his way past a couple of Villa players before his shot is blocked.
PENALTY TO STOKE CITY!
GOAL! Stoke City 1-0 Aston Villa (Arnautovic)
It's been all Stoke since the start of the second half and their pressure eventually pays off. Westwood goes in late on Bardsley in the penalty area and Arnautovic drills the spot kick down the centre. Can Villa produce a response?
Villa win a free kick towards the right corner flag but Gil's cross to the back post is headed clear by Bardsley, the full-back doing well to get in between a group of players.
GOAL! Stoke City 2-0 Aston Villa (Arnautovic)
That could be that as far as this game is concerned. Shaqiri dribbles into a crossing position on the left-hand side and his floated cross towards the back post isn't dealt with. The ball goes high into the air with Bunn caught up in the net and Arnautovic has the simple task of nodding in.
SUBSTITUTION! Garde has thrown Sinclair on for Gil but it may be too little too late.
Bit of an improvement from Villa, but both Agbonlahor and Sinclair fail to make the most of chances inside the penalty area. Stoke soon hit back through Arnautovic but he is forced to settle for a corner.
CHANCE! Nearly another comical goal for Stoke! Wollscheid gets his head to a corner but his goalbound effort is flicked wide by Arnautovic. The Villa defence don't look up for this any more...
Shaqiri has been excellent since the start of the second half and he nearly creates a third for his side. He bursts down the right flank but even though his intention is a cross, his delivery almost sneaks in at the front post, with Bunn tipping over for a corner.
You won't be surprised to hear that Stoke are in complete control here. They are pushing for a third without throwing too many players forward. Imbula gets a shot away from distance but it went harmlessly off target.
SUBSTITUTION! Hughes makes his first alterations for Stoke, with Bojan and Joselu replacing Afellay and Walters.
As it stands, Stoke are moving into eighth position, just two points behind Manchester United and four points off fifth. Not bad for a team who have always been considered a mid-table outfit.
SAVE! Stoke are feeling that confident even Bardsley is looking to get in on the act. The right-back must have thought that his shot was on the way in, but Bunn did well to claim the ball.
GOAL! Stoke City 2-1 Aston Villa (Bacuna)
Maybe they should not be so confident after all! A deep cross from Sinclair finds substitute Gestede, who tees up Bacuna to provide the composed finish. Game on!
That certainty wasn't part of the script. Remember, Stoke aren't in the position to throw on defensive reinforcements. This could get interesting!
Villa aren't capitalising on the momentum from that goal but they still have a chance here. There should be at least four minutes of added-on time.
CHANCE! Was that the chance? A cross from Sinclair, who has impressed since his introduction, finds Gestede, but he can only glance wide.
There will be four minutes of added-on time.
Sinclair goes down rather easily in the penalty area but he is told, quite rightly, by the referee to get to his feet. That was out of desperation more than anything.
FULL TIME: Stoke City 2-1 Aston Villa
The full-time whistle goes at the Britannia Stadium and Stoke have held on to record three points over Aston Villa. The match ended closer than it should have, but the Potters won't care as they move into eighth position in the table.
That will be all from Sports Molefor this match, but we hope that you can stay around for all of the reaction from today's games. Goodbye for now.