TONY PULIS bemoaned the absence of Glenn Whelan after Stoke were plunged deeper into relegation trouble by a stunning Matt Lowton strike that propelled Aston Villa to a precious victory.
Pulis, who was forced to answer questions about his own future after the game, said that the unavailability of Whelan was a key factor. The Dubliner was ruled out by a back problem.
"Glenn Whelan takes a lot of stick from supporters," said Pulis. "But he keeps us tight and compact and we looked loose without him.
"He gets picked by his country and me... and people still criticise him. Hopefully, people have come to the game and seen why he plays because he keeps us compact."
Pulis also has an injury concern over Irish left-back Marc Wilson, who left the field seven minutes into the second half with a sore hamstring.
Wilson's international team-mate Ciaran Clark was absent from the Villa side as he continues to be troubled by the shoulder injury he sustained during the World Cup qualifier with Austria.
Stoke fell behind in the ninth minute when Gabriel Agbonlahor pounced, but Michael Kightly looked to have earned them a point when he equalised with 10 minutes remaining.
Lowton then took centre stage and Christian Benteke added the third o put Pulis under serious pressure and move Villa out of the drop zone.
The Potters face champions-elect Manchester United next Sunday before embarking on a tense run-in that includes meetings with fellow relegation strugglers QPR, Norwich and Sunderland.
Stoke have won only one league match since they dismantled Liverpool over the Christmas period to move within five points of the Champions League places.