By MICHAEL KLINE
Aston Villa were able to overcome a late equalizer from Stoke City this afternoon, and move three points clear of the relegation zone, after a late surge led the Villans to a 3-1 win over The Potters.
Stoke entered the match on simply atrocious form, having won only once in their previous 12 league matches, and the Potters now find themselves in the midst of a relegation battle.
Tony Pulis’ squad struggled from the start, and the tone was set early when a clear penalty off of a Villa handball was denied in the second minute. Like clockwork, Aston Villa were in front less than seven minutes later through Gabriel Agbonlahor’s record-tying 60th Premier League goal for the club.
It was all Villa through the first half, and the Potters found themselves booed off by their home crowd at the half-time whistle.
The beginning of the second half was much like the first, with Villa enjoying the majority of the chances, yet Stoke were able to find a rare goal and draw level just 10 minutes from full-time.
Stoke’s hopes were quickly dashed, however, when a thunderous volley from an unexpected hero put the visitors back on top. Matthew Lowton chested down a clearance from 30 yards out before producing a stunning volley, giving the right-back his first career goal for the Villans.
The match was put to rest four minutes later when Christian Benteke slid a shot past Asmir Begović, giving Aston Villa their third win in their last four matches.
ARSENAL MOVE INTO FOURTH PLACE WITH 2-1 WIN OVER WEST BROM
Arsenal notched their sixth win in their last seven matches, and moved into the top four for the first time since late December, after a hard-fought 2-1 victory over West Bromwich Albion.
Tomas Rosicky was the hero of the afternoon, scoring both of Arsenal’s goals, and recording a goal-line clearance off of a Claudio Yacob diving header.
A shaky start from Arsenal was quickly put to bed when Rosicky scored on 20 minutes.
Mikel Arteta sliced open West Brom’s defense with a long-ball that found Gervinho, and, following a decent bit of skill from the Ivorian international, Rosicky found the net with a near-post header.
The Gunners were in control, and their lead should have been doubled after some silky build-up resulted in a wide-open opportunity for Aaron Ramsey, who pushed the sitter wide.
Arsenal’s lead was finally extended 15 minutes after half-time, when Tomas Rosicky followed up on his own rebound, calmly putting his second opportunity past Ben Foster.
Arsenal looked like they were cruising to three points before Per Mertesacker was shown red after bringing down Shane Long in the box. James Morrison converted from the spot, but Arsenal were able to survive a good bit of late pressure and squeak out the victory.
PREMIER LEAGUE SCOREBOARD
Norwich City recorded their fifth draw in their last six home matches thanks to a 2-2 match against Swansea City. Michu netted his third goal of the season against the Canaries, but a missed opportunity from the Spaniard in stoppage time prevented Swansea from registering three points in the match.
Reading’s relegation fate was all but sealed this afternoon, after Southampton gave them their seventh consecutive league loss with a 2-0 victory on the road, leaving Reading eight points from safety. With only six matches remaining on the schedule, and several other relegation-battlers possessing at least a game-in-hand, Reading looks destined to the Championship next season.
What do you think of the results? Will Arsenal be able to stay top four? Does Villa have it in them to avoid the drop? Can Stoke City overcome a bad stretch of results and stay in the top-flight?
Share your comments below.