DEFENDER Robert Huth snatched an injury-time winner as Stoke came from behind to beat Aston Villa at the Britannia Stadium and get their season off and running.
Club-record signing Kenwyne Jones had earlier marked his home debut with an equaliser to Stewart Downing’s 35th-minute header on an emotional night for the Potters.
Manager Tony Pulis missed the first half after the death of his mother earlier in the day but returned after the interval, while new Villa boss Gerard Houllier was absent due to his commitments with the French Football Federation.
A breakneck early pace suited Stoke’s high-energy game and they had a number of half-chances.
But when Gabriel Agbonlahor’s 35th-minute curling left-footed cross to the far post caught Huth in two minds and he chose the wrong option as he stepped towards the ball only to see it sail over him. Downing timed his run and dive to perfection, planting a low curling header past Sorensen and in off the right post.
Stoke felt they had justifiable claims for a penalty moments later when James Collins seemed to handle under pressure from Jones but Probert waved away appeals.
Pulis arrived for the second half, giving the crowd and his team a lift.
Their endeavour finally paid off in the 80th minute when Etherington sent over the ideal cross for Jones to head home.
Deep into injury-time Jermaine Pennant’s free-kick dropped to Etherington and his shot was deflected in by Huth to secure the home side’s first win of the season.
Etherington afterwards claimed the appearance of bereaved boss Tony Pulis on the sidelines at half-time inspired the win.
“Obviously he wasn’t happy at half-time, he was very disappointed about what was happening,” he told Sky Sports. “He had thought it would be too much to be with us but after the first half and the way we played he came in.
“They were on top and he wasn’t happy, so he came in and I think we were better in the second half.”
Villa caretaker manager Kevin MacDonald said: “We still had chances in the second half as well and I thought we played some good football in both halves, so its obviously disappointing that we lost 2-1,” he said.
“We’re always confident in the way we play, passing it, moving it around and creating chances but Stoke are always very difficult to beat as they showed in the second half.”
STOKE: Sorensen, Huth, Shawcross, Faye, Collins, Delap (Whelan 87), Whitehead, Wilson (Pennant 65), Etherington, Walters (Fuller 61), Jones.
ASTON VILLA: Friedel, Luke Young, Dunne, Collins, Warnock, Ashley Young, Albrighton, Petrov, Reo-Coker, Downing, Agbonlahor (Heskey 86).
Referee: Lee Probert (Wiltshire).
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