John Carew wheels away in celebration after heading in Villa's winner
By Les Roopanarine
Aston Villa underlined their Champions League credentials as Stoke City were undone by a second-half header from substitute John Carew.
Villa broke the deadlock on the hour when Ashley Young crossed for Carew to nod home the winner from six yards.
Stoke defended doggedly throughout, but offered little by way of goal threat beyond a disallowed first-half effort from Mamady Sidibe.
Steve Sidwell might have added a late second for Villa, but twice fired wide.
It was a fourth successive Premier League win for Martin O'Neill's men, who are unbeaten in seven games since early November and now sit fourth in the table, having briefly overtaken third-placed Arsenal before the Gunners' 3-0 win over Hull.
But while Villa's statistics are impressive, their lack of fluency in the face of some impressively stubborn Stoke defending was at times less so, and it would have been an injustice to the visitors' resilience had Sidwell done better with two late efforts from just outside the box.
That said, it was a game of numerous blocks and late saving tackles from both defences, and O'Neill will be justifiably delighted by a fourth consecutive clean sheet.
O'Neill's Stoke counterpart, Tony Pulis, had spoken of a nose-to-the-grindstone approach in training this week, but while his players were typically long on endeavour, they were also characteristically short on menace.
Stoke have scored fewer away goals this season than any other Premier League side, and offered little attacking threat beyond a few long-range pot shots from Glenn Whelan and Sidibe's disallowed header, which was ruled out for a push on Stephen Warnock.
In a week when the death of former goalkeeper Dennis Herod evoked a strong sense of nostalgia around the Potteries, how Stoke could have done with a proven poacher like Harry Burrows.
O'Neill cools talk of top four finish
Burrows, who had signed from Villa only a few months earlier, netted the only goal of the game when Stoke last won at Villa Park back in November 1965.
The following season he scored a hat-trick for Stoke against his former club in a 6-1 home win that hastened Villa's slide towards eventual relegation.
The modern-day outlook could hardly be more different, for while no Stoke player has scored more than two league goals this season, Villa's sights are set firmly on the top four.
For an hour, however, you would hardly have guessed as much, Stoke staging a defensive master-class to stifle Villa's usual flair.
After a slow start during which Stoke enjoyed plenty of possession but did little with it, Villa did threaten briefly to go through the gears.
Stoke keeper Thomas Sorensen was forced into a rapid-fire double save, parrying a stinging Stiliyan Petrov effort before stretching out a foot to block Gabriel Agbonlahor's follow-up.
Pulis angered by 'injustice' of disallowed goal
But Villa's momentum was arrested following the withdrawal of Emile Heskey, who was injured in a challenge with Danny Higginbotham.
Heskey was replaced by Carew, but Villa remained strangely becalmed.
With Tuncay increasingly influential for Stoke after the break, the pressure was on Villa to up the attacking ante.
Cometh the hour, they obliged, unlocking Stoke's previously impregnable defence with a goal of admirable simplicity as Ashley Young crossed from the right for Carew to plant a firm close-range header past Sorensen.
Having dropped points in the corresponding fixture last March, when they squandered a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 - and subsequently managed just two more wins all season - it was vital to Villa's Champions League aspirations that they held on.
And despite continued Stoke pressure they did so, maintaining the feel-good factor around Villa Park ahead of their visit to Arsenal next Sunday, which comes two days before they entertain Liverpool at home.
Aston Villa manager Martin O'Neill:
"It was a really tough game and we knew it would be, so we had the mindset for it.
"Stoke are very strong and very good, and considering the games that we've had recently I thought it was our best win.
"I think it's even more difficult to break into the top four this year, but it's great that we are going into games against Arsenal and Liverpool with great confidence."
Tony Pulis on Mamady Sidibe's disallowed goal:
"It was an injustice, but we'll have to take it on the chin.
"We've had a few decisions go against this year, but we're pleased with the performance.
"If there was a fault, it was that we didn't make [Brad] Friedel work.
"We've got to start hitting the back of the net, and we've got to hope that one of our strikers hits a rich vein of form."
90:00+3:20 The game is over, as the referee blows his whistle.
90:00+2:31 James Beattie takes a shot. Blocked by Steve Sidwell.
90:00+1:01 James Milner concedes a free kick for a foul on Rory Delap. Direct free kick taken by Thomas Sorensen.
89:37 Effort on goal by Ricardo Fuller from outside the area goes harmlessly over the bar.
89:10 Steve Sidwell produces a right-footed shot from just outside the penalty box that misses to the left of the target.
88:22 Stiliyan Petrov fouled by Rory Delap, the ref awards a free kick. James Milner takes the free kick.
87:34 Effort from the edge of the area by Steve Sidwell goes wide of the right-hand post.
84:10 Corner taken left-footed by Matthew Etherington, clearance made by Steve Sidwell.
83:41 Inswinging corner taken by Tuncay Sanli from the left by-line, Luke Young manages to make a clearance.
83:01 Substitution Mamady Sidibe goes off and James Beattie comes on.
83:01 Substitution Rory Delap is brought on as a substitute for Glenn Whelan.
81:09 Foul by Richard Dunne on Tuncay Sanli, free kick awarded. Free kick taken by Glenn Whelan.
80:19 Substitution Steve Sidwell on for Stewart Downing.
80:07 Free kick awarded for a foul by Mamady Sidibe on Gabriel Agbonlahor. Free kick taken by Stephen Warnock.
75:58 Stephen Warnock challenges Mamady Sidibe unfairly and gives away a free kick. Free kick crossed by Matthew Etherington, clearance
by Richard Dunne.
75:12 Substitution Salif Diao goes off and Ricardo Fuller comes on.
74:54 Effort on goal by Matthew Etherington from just inside the penalty box goes harmlessly over the target.
73:22 Ashley Young crosses the ball, Header from close in by Richard Dunne misses to the right of the goal.
72:50 John Carew takes a shot. Blocked by Danny Higginbotham.
72:24 Stephen Warnock delivers the ball, Thomas Sorensen makes a save.
68:51 The referee penalises James Milner for handball. Free kick crossed right-footed by Glenn Whelan.
67:33 Dean Whitehead takes a shot. Blocked by Richard Dunne.
66:01 Ashley Young shoots direct from the free kick.
66:01 Booking Andy Wilkinson is shown a yellow card for unsporting behaviour.
65:49 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Gabriel Agbonlahor by Andy Wilkinson.
63:15 Tuncay Sanli takes a shot. Richard Dunne gets a block in.
61:47 Free kick awarded for a foul by Salif Diao on Luke Young. Luke Young takes the free kick.
60:28 Assist by Ashley Young.
60:28 GOAL - John Carew:Aston Villa 1 - 0 Stoke John Carew finds the net with a headed goal from inside the six-yard box. Aston Villa 1-0 Stoke.
60:27 A cross is delivered by Ashley Young,
59:47 Stewart Downing takes a outswinging corner.
59:34 Gabriel Agbonlahor takes a shot. Danny Higginbotham gets a block in.
58:46 Glenn Whelan takes a shot from just inside the penalty box which clears the crossbar.
58:28 Inswinging corner taken by Matthew Etherington from the right by-line played to the near post.
58:13 Andy Wilkinson takes a shot. Richard Dunne gets a block in.
56:00 Effort from the edge of the area by Dean Whitehead goes wide of the left-hand post.
55:29 Effort on goal by Tuncay Sanli from inside the box misses to the right of the target.
53:43 The ball is delivered by Ashley Young, John Carew produces a left-footed shot from close in that goes over the bar.
53:30 A cross is delivered by Stephen Warnock, clearance made by Danny Collins.
52:35 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Stephen Warnock by Andy Wilkinson. Brad Friedel restarts play with the free kick.
49:39 Tuncay Sanli gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Carlos Cuellar. Direct free kick taken by Stiliyan Petrov.
48:38 Glenn Whelan takes the chance to get an effort at goal. Stiliyan Petrov gets a block in.
48:18 The ball is swung over by Ashley Young, save by Thomas Sorensen.
47:52 Ashley Young fouled by Andy Wilkinson, the ref awards a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Ashley Young.
46:21 Dean Whitehead sends in a cross, Richard Dunne gets a block in.
45:40 Free kick awarded for a foul by John Carew on Danny Collins. Free kick taken by Danny Higginbotham.
45:01 The referee starts the second half.
45:00+3:04 The referee calls an end to the first half.
45:00+1:50 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Dean Whitehead by Ashley Young. Matthew Etherington sends in a cross, Danny Higginbotham
has a headed effort at goal from close in which goes wide left of the target.
45:00+0:10 Handball by Dean Whitehead. Brad Friedel takes the direct free kick.
44:02 Foul by Richard Dunne on Mamady Sidibe, free kick awarded. Direct free kick taken by Glenn Whelan.
43:21 The ball is swung over by Stewart Downing.
40:59 Stewart Downing has an effort at goal from just outside the box which goes wide of the right-hand upright.
39:35 Foul by Matthew Etherington on James Milner, free kick awarded. James Milner takes the free kick.
36:17 Tuncay Sanli gives away a free kick for an unfair challenge on Richard Dunne. Richard Dunne takes the direct free kick.
34:57 Corner taken right-footed by Glenn Whelan, save by Brad Friedel.
33:24 Ashley Young sends in a cross, John Carew produces a right-footed shot from close range which goes wide of the left-hand upright.
32:06 Stephen Warnock fouled by Mamady Sidibe, the ref awards a free kick. Brad Friedel restarts play with the free kick.
Correction - 30:59 Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Dean Whitehead by James Milner. Thomas Sorensen takes the direct free kick.
30:59 Unfair challenge on Dean Whitehead by James Milner results in a free kick. Abdoulaye Faye takes the direct free kick.
29:09 Inswinging corner taken left-footed by Stewart Downing, save made by Thomas Sorensen.
28:56 James Milner takes a shot. Abdoulaye Faye gets a block in.
27:13 Dean Whitehead is adjudged to have handled the ball. Brad Friedel takes the direct free kick.
25:45 The ball is swung over by Ashley Young, save by Thomas Sorensen.
22:43 Substitution Emile Heskey leaves the field to be replaced by John Carew.
22:31 Shot from just outside the box by Glenn Whelan misses to the right of the target.
20:37 Effort from just outside the area by Glenn Whelan goes over the bar.
18:40 Ashley Young takes a shot. Save by Thomas Sorensen.
17:32 Tuncay Sanli fouled by Stiliyan Petrov, the ref awards a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Abdoulaye Faye.
17:24 Centre by James Milner, Danny Collins makes a clearance.
16:30 Stewart Downing takes a shot. Save made by Thomas Sorensen.
16:21 The ball is crossed by Ashley Young, Danny Higginbotham manages to make a clearance.
15:25 Gabriel Agbonlahor takes a shot. Save made by Thomas Sorensen.
15:14 Stiliyan Petrov takes a shot. Thomas Sorensen makes a save.
13:55 Ashley Young crosses the ball, free kick awarded for a foul by Gabriel Agbonlahor on Danny Collins. Thomas Sorensen restarts
play with the free kick.
13:18 Unfair challenge on Richard Dunne by Dean Whitehead results in a free kick. Richard Dunne restarts play with the free kick.
8:46 Unfair challenge on Ashley Young by Salif Diao results in a free kick. The ball is crossed by Stewart Downing, Headed effort
from deep inside the area by Richard Dunne misses to the right of the goal.
8:36 Luke Young delivers the ball, clearance made by Abdoulaye Faye.
7:28 Stewart Downing has an effort at goal from just outside the box which goes wide of the right-hand post.
2:22 A cross is delivered by Abdoulaye Faye, clearance made by Stewart Downing.
0:56 The ball is crossed by Gabriel Agbonlahor.
0:00 The game kicks-off.
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