STOKE, September 14 – Stoke manager Tony Pulis's emotional return to the dug-out after his mother's death inspired his side to a dramatic 2-1 win against Aston Villa on Monday.Pulis missed the first half of the Britannia Stadium clash following his elderly mother’s passing earlier in the day, but he decided to return to work in time for the second period and his dedication sparked a remarkable response from his players.
Stoke had been out-played for much of the first half and trailed to Stewart Downing’s diving header, but they roared back after the interval and secured their first win of the season thanks to a Kenwyne Jones header and Robert Huth’s strike with virtually the last kick of the game.
Pulis celebrated Huth’s goal with a joyous jig on the touchline before sprinting down the tunnel as soon as the final whistle blew.
For Villa, there was only frustration at tossing away the lead in the first match since the appointment of Gerard Houllier as Martin O’Neill’s successor.
Houllier was officially unveiled as Villa boss last week but the former Liverpool and Lyon manager has been unable to start work with his new club due to prior commitments to his previous employers at the French Football Federation (FFF).
He is currently back in France fulfiling his duties as FFF technical director, leaving caretaker Kevin MacDonald in charge, but hopes to take charge of his first match next week when Villa face Blackburn in the League Cup.
Jones had a sight of goal early on when he chested down Thomas Sorensen’s clearance and hit a long-range effort on the turn which Brad Friedel did well to push away.
But Stoke’s muscular defenders looked nervous at the back against Villa’s pace and skill and the visitors took the lead in the 35th minute when Gabriel Agbonlahor curled a cross towards Downing at the far post.
Huth should have cleared the danger but hesitated and the ball sailed over him to Downing, who dived at full stretch to plant a superb header past Sorensen.
Stoke appealed for a penalty were turned down moments later when James Collins seemed to handle under pressure from Jones but referee Lee Probert waved away appeals.
Villa had no intention of sitting on their lead and should have been further in front when Ashley Young headed wide with the goal at his mercy from Agbonlahor’s cross.
James Collins also threated with a close-range drive that Sorensen parried to safety, before Downing forced Sorensen into another save with a sliding effort from Marc Albrighton’s cross.
When Pulis emerged to take his place in the Stoke dug-out after half-time, the rapturous reception from the home fans clearly lifted his team.
After being battered in the closing stages of the first-half, Stoke were transformed.
Friedel had to save a Jones header from Matthew Etherington’s free-kick before Pulis sent on Ricardo Fuller and new signing Jermaine Pennant in a bid to increase the pressure.
Villa were starting to creak and the equaliser finally arrived in the 80th minute when Jones nodded in a perfectly placed header from Etherington’s cross.
With just seconds of stoppage time left to play, Villa failed to clear a free-kick and Huth was cool enough to flick Etherington’s pass into the roof of the net.