As more than a quarter of Stoke's fixtures are against some of Peter Crouch's many former clubs, there appear to be familiar faces at every turn. This, however, was a reunion to remember. He fashioned their first goal and scored their second to elevate Stoke into the upper half of the table and answer a few questions about his own future.
There was the thought that, come January, Stoke would join the long list of Crouch's old employers. Not so, according to Mark Hughes. "He is not going anywhere," said the Stoke manager. "He has been playing at this level for a long time and you don't do that unless you are a good player."
Indeed, Crouch's Premier League debut came for Aston Villa, almost a dozen years ago, and barring a loan spell at Norwich, he has not returned to the lower divisions since. The chances of Stoke beating a retreat to the Championship have decreased too, after a revival that has yielded seven points in three games. Crouch has scored in successive home wins against Chelsea and Villa, bringing a reward for the buffeting he takes from central defenders.
"He gives a focus to our attacking play," Hughes said. "I played that role for many years with your back to the goal and it is a thankless task on occasion. You have to take the hits for the team. That is what Peter did but he is an accomplished player."
He illustrated as much with a delightful backheeled volley against the post. It would have been a worthier winner than this decider. Nevertheless, it was all too apt that it came from a defensive mix-up: this was a game pockmarked by errors.
When Geoff Cameron curled in a cross, Chris Herd and Brad Guzan missed it and Crouch dispatched his shot into the empty net with a cathartic thump. He had played a pivotal part in the opener and while Hughes made his contribution with a catalytic substitution, this was a goal from the Tony Pulis handbook.
Crouch flicked on the influential Cameron's free kick, Charlie Adam controlled the ball on his chest, held off Nathan Baker and angled a shot past Guzan. He had only been on the pitch for five minutes. "I'm not going to take all the credit – you can give it to me if you want – but Charlie came on and made an impact," Hughes said.
It was the goal a dreadful game needed. It was fitting that the first flashpoint stemmed from a mistake. Andreas Weimann anticipated Marc Wilson's poor touch to dispossess the Irishman who, in his attempts to make amends, upended the Austrian. The Villa supporters called for a red card; the referee, Craig Pawson, opted for yellow.
Then, when Guzan was tested by a vicious effort struck, it was a misplaced cross from Cameron. And, after Adam made the breakthrough and Baker spurned a fine chance to equalise, Villa's leveller came from another blunder. Libor Kozak latched on to a terrible back header from Erik Pieters to slot the ball past Asmir Begovic.
"Kozak was excellent," said the Villa manager, Paul Lambert. The understudy has provided some solace as Christian Benteke has gone three months without goal. A knee injury kept the Belgian out and renders him a doubt for the Boxing Day game against Crystal Palace. "Hopefully the rest will do him the world of good," Lambert said, before turning his attention to the result. "I never thought we deserved to lose."
After three successive losses, however, his present is a little more unpleasant after a defeat inflicted by the ghost of Villa past.