Paul Lambert's Aston Villa side put in one of its better efforts in quite a while and defeated Stoke City 1-0 at the Britannia Stadium. The defense was solid and well-organized, Villa had numbers in attack, and wingers actually did some productive things for the first time in what seems like a while for the claret and blues.
Stoke City started out the match on the front foot as Villa tried to settle in for the first 10-15 minutes. But for all the possession the hosts had (63% on the match), they rarely tested Guzan in net thanks to a combination of strong defensive work from Villa and a general lack of commitment to scoring goals from Stoke. Aly Cissokho had a fantastic debut at left back while Philippe Senderos and Alan Hutton both turned in strong performances alongside captain Ron Vlaar. The four of them were well-organized and for the most part, kept Stoke's attack outside of the penalty area, leaving the hosts to rely on crosses (which were met with four Villans in the box) and shots from distance—one of which was Stoke's best chance when Phil Bardsley forced a fine save from Guzan right before half-time.
Villa had the first real clear-cut chance of the afternoon on a counter attack 25 minutes in and Stoke were very lucky not to go behind. Villa had played in Kieran Richardson but Asmir Begovic completely misread the situation—Richardson dribbled around the keeper at the edge of the box and slid the ball across for Agbonlahor. But with a wide-open net, Agbonlahor put the ball at least 10 yards wide, squandering what was in truth the game's best chance.
Villa controlled play for the rest of the half and would resume where they left off early in the second half. After bouncing around the attacking half a bit, Andi Weimann got on the ball. His first touch let him down but he beat a pair of defenders to the ball in the box, fired on net, and scored off the keeper's hands on 50 minutes. Villa remained a threat going forward on the counterattack as the match went on and held on for the win after Vlaar and Senderos both blocked goal-bound shots to preserve the advantage.
While this performance doesn't mean Villa are going to win the league, it's a reason to be optimistic headed into these next two matches, home to Newcastle and Hull. I talked earlier in the week about the importance of getting results against the fellow lower sides and from that perspective, it's a great start. Paul Lambert's side went into one of the tougher places to play in the Premier League—Stoke lost just thrice at home last year—and really deserved the three points they got. If Villa can keep up the defensive organization, all-in attitude, numbers in attack, and strong play from the wing, there's no reason to believe that four points from these next two matches isn't possible.
But for now, let's all enjoy the win! It's a great way to start the campaign, ain't it?