Marko Arnautovic's quickfire brace helped a below-par Stoke City to a 2-1 win against rock-bottom Aston Villa at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday.
Remi Garde's Villa improved from their 6-0 Premier League rout at the hands of Liverpool a fortnight ago but remained on the back foot for long spells against a Stoke side who struggled to muster much of a threat in the first half.
But Arnautovic - one of three brought in by Mark Hughes - ensured Villa another miserable away day with two goals in five second-half minutes.
On a rare start amid Stoke's defensive injury troubles, Phil Bardsley earned a penalty six minutes into the second half that Arnautovic slotted home comfortably.
And the winger scored from close range soon after as Villa again showed their fragility against a backdrop of audible anger from the travelling faithful.
That frustration eased somewhat when Leandro Bacuna pulled one back with a calm finish 11 minutes from time, but Villa remain eight points from safety while Stoke's European aspirations live on.
With Glen Johnson, Marc Muniesa and Ryan Shawcross injured, Hughes welcomed Geoff Cameron back into his defence but was given a scare when Bacuna lunged at Erik Pieters.
Stoke dominated early on with Villa showing just one change from their hapless display against Liverpool - Alan Hutton replacing Micah Richards.
Arnautovic - in for Mame Biram Diouf - saw a cross almost deflect in off Jores Okore but Stoke struggled to convert their possession into chances during the opening half-hour.
An expert last-ditch Okore tackle denied Ibrahim Afellay a shot on goal and Stoke continued to press after the break as the Dutch attacker burst forward only to be crowded out.
But Stoke were eventually handed a golden opportunity to break the deadlock when Ashley Westwood clumsily clattered into Bardsley.
Arnautovic, who provided most of Stoke's limited threat, stepped up and struck down the middle to give the hosts a deserved lead.
Villa briefly rallied after falling behind but dismal defending combined with attacking desire from Arnautovic allowed the Austrian to settle a low-quality contest before the hour.
Arnautovic got his head to Xherdan Shaqiri's deep cross and, under half-hearted pressure from Okore and Joleon Lescott, got another touch on the loose ball to force home his and Stoke's second.
Bacuna's finish offered hope - Rudy Gestede fortunate to survive a handball appeal in the build-up - but Garde's men failed to mount a comeback as they slipped closer to Championship football.
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