Club Focus – Stoke City – Potters bring both beauty and the beast in beating West Brom

Stoke City extended their staggering run against West Bromwich Albion to just one defeat in the last 27 league encounters between the sides and recorded their biggest top flight away win since 1982 in the process with a 3-0 triumph at the Hawthorns.

The score line flattered the Potters to an extent, but Tony Pulis’ men ruthlessly punished some dreadful defending by their Midlands rivals. They were helped by a long-awaited change of luck with the award of not one but two penalties – Stoke’s first spot kicks since March – which were converted with aplomb by Matthew Etherington and Jon Walters respectively.

The game had been portrayed in certain media circles as a contest between beauty and the beast, with the attractive attacking style of Roberto Di Matteo’s side taking on the more robust, direct approach of the Potteries outfit. Yet in victory, Stoke showed a touch of class alongside their trademark tenacity. The brawn that many associate with Pulis’ team was there in abundance, with the relentless pressing and bullying of Dean Whitehead and Rory Delap in the engine room knocking the Baggies off their stride and preventing them from getting into any kind of rhythm.

Yet there were flourishes of quality in the build up to all three Stoke goals. Some neat, triangular interplay between Whitehead, Etherington and Ricardo Fuller sent the Jamaican away down the left, a move that culminated in the striker selflessly and intelligently squaring for strike partner Kenwyne Jones to earn the game’s first penalty. The second spot kick came following a terrific Tuncay Sanli pass from the touchline into Whitehead’s path, while Jones’ back heel for Walters to score Stoke’s third took three West Brom defenders out of the game.

The Potters’ experiments with evolving their playing style have been shelved to some degree in recent weeks, with the ball-playing likes of Marc Wilson displaced in favour of accommodating less-sophisticated qualities of midfield muscle and Delap’s long throw. Meanwhile, the use of a playmaker in the hole has been abandoned in favour of having a target man playing as the withdrawn striker in Pulis’ rigid 4-4-1-1 formation. Nevertheless, it is clear the commitment to a more attacking, creative approach has been embraced, at least in part, this season. Evidence of this can be seen in the presence of a flying winger on the right flank in Jermaine Pennant, and a target man in Jones who is arguably as adept with the ball on the ground as in the air. Similarly, the value of Tuncay appears to have been re-assessed, and the Turk has gone from not even making the bench earlier in the campaign to seeing his talents harnessed more often, either from the start or as an impact sub.

Victory over Manchester City would mark the first time that the Potters have won four consecutive top flight games for 37 years. The doom and gloom of a fortnight ago, when Stoke were in the relegation zone, has lifted, with just three points separating the Potters from the Europa League places. Such is the nature of this topsy-turvy Premier League, where the margins between despair and delight have never been finer.

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