Stoke turn on style to thrill Hughes
Aston Villa 1 Stoke City 4
Paul Lambert had insisted in his programme notes that Aston Villa were on the right road but this was another severe swerve off course as Stoke produced emphatic evidence of their evolution under Mark Hughes.
After the euphoria of the previous week's deserved win over Chelsea this was a sobering dose of reality for Lambert, and a ninth home defeat of the season.
This was the first time Stoke had scored four goals away from home in the Premier League, with the travelling supporters frequently chanting "it's just like watching Brazil" in tribute to their shift in style under Hughes.
Their reputation as street fighters remains difficult to shift, yet any more performances like this and even their harshest of critics will have to ditch the negativity.
"This was a big statement from us," said Hughes. "There is a perception of us and it's not going to go away overnight. We're just happy people are actually recognising a change in style and how it's working. We deserve a bit more credit than we've been getting."
Villa Park has resembled more of a Wendy house than a fortress in recent years but Stoke's away record had been equally abysmal and they were behind after five minutes. Fabian Delph easily skipped past Geoff Cameron into the area and his cross found Christian Benteke, whose finish was ruthless.
Peter Odemwingie levelled in the 22nd minute, taking Peter Crouch's knockdown in his stride before sliding the ball under Brad Guzan.
Villa were suddenly paralysed by nerves and Stoke sensed it, capitalising four minutes later through a close-range finish from Crouch, who dominated the home defence all afternoon. It got even worse before half-time with a goal that emphasised Stoke's progress under Hughes. After neat interplay in the centre of midfield, Marko Arnautovic drifted inside before slotting the ball to Steven Nzonzi on the edge of the area. The midfielder's low shot beat Guzan.
Stoke were cruising for much of the second half, adding a fourth in injury time after another eye-catching run from Arnautovic, with Cameron producing the finish to complete a nightmare for Villa. (© Daily Telegraph, London)