West Bromwich Albion 1 - Stoke City 0
Wins against Stoke have been hard ones to come by for many years, so with them fielding an ex-Baggie with a grudge and Claudio Yacob in hospital with suspected appendicitis, the task looked as hard as ever. Jake Livermore made his full debut in place of Yacob, and with Jonny Evans frustrating the coaching staff with his slow return from injury, Craig Dawson continued to partner Gareth McAuley at centre half with Chris Brunt continuing at left back and new loan signing Marc Wilson making the bench.
Just as they did at Middlesbrough, Albion opened the scoring early on through James Morrison - but this time it was a perfect pass from Nacer Chadli that set him up. But unlike the 'Boro game, that was where the scoring ended despite plenty of chances on both sides. Livermore produced a tidy performance in midfield and contributed greatly in protecting the defence for the last half hour as Stoke pressed for goals, while youngster Sam Field got a run out for the last few minutes and looked strong and determined.
Having been booed when his name was read out, Saido Berahino started on the bench and was booed again when he started warming up. When he finally took to the field in the second half, he was booed every time he touched the ball; the boos turned into cheers on one occasion when Darren Fletched relieved him of it. "Saido, what's the score" sang the home crowd as they left the ground.
Other strange events included Salomon Rondon's number being held up to bring on Hal Robson-Kanu but changed to Matt Phillips' once he reached the touchline, and referee Kevin "not to Albion, I'm not a" Friend capping an erratic performance by booking Ben Foster for time-wasting; Albion were making a substitution at the time.
The win takes Albion up to 36 points from 24 games, in eighth place and almost safe with nearly four months left to go while Stoke drop to eleventh.
It is always an absolutely glorius feeling to beat Stoke and I thought we were good value for it.
First half we were excellent. We played some really good stuff, we mostly dealt with Crouch well and we should really have scored more goals. We looked like we might score every time we got forward.
I thought in that opening period Livermore was outstanding. Mobile, powerful and athletic, solid in the tackle but able to carry the ball forward quickly and hit good forward passes.
Livermore set the tone, but there were great performances all over the pitch. the one blemish was the free header allowed to Allen who should have scored.
Second half we were a bit to negative and sat back a bit for my liking. Livermore looked like he was under instruction to sit deeper on the toes of our centre backs. Despite this was looked good on the counter and dangerous, but we were under more pressure than was necessary and Stoke missed a sitter to equalise with a header at the back post.
But all in all it was another entertaining game and we are looking like the best footballing side I have ever seen under Tony Pulis in his coaching career. We look as much a threat in open play as we do from set pieces, Chadli, Morrison and Phillips are fast, can beat places and score goals and no defender in the league likes facing Rondon even if he isn't prolific, he batters away at them and runs and runs.
Hopefully we can keep it going until the end of the season and take a few scalps along the way - starting next week against a Hammers side we needn't fear.
Albion in a comfort zone?
This one was about as one-sided as one-nils get.
Despite having a 100-EPL-goal target man in Crouch, Albion kept Stoke to two real chances, and even the best of those they couldn't get on-target, whilst spurning a hatful of chances of their own, to put the game to bed.
With Yacob out with a gutsful of something, new signing Livermore swapped a place on the bench for a starting role, with the newest of signings, Wilson, coming straight onto the bench. Out on the field, Chadli and Phillips swapped sides - in case you're finding it hard to keep track, Chadli started on the left for this one.
In fact, not only did Chadli start on the left for this one, he started incredibly well, culminating in a run towards the Stoke box that saw the defenders backing off to the edge of their own area, however before he got crowded out, Chadli would slide a sublime ball through the massing defence that flatfooted them as Morrison, running inside Chadli as he broke away, advanced into the space behind them, and calmly slipped the ball across the keeper and into the far side of the goal, for his second successive sixth-minute strike.
Quite why Albion didn't then sit back on that early lead wasn't readily apparent, although with Stoke offering so little, in terms of troubling them, Arnautovic, who had a proper battle with Nyom, aside, perhaps their latent ability to look to try to take the game to the opposition, simply surfaced on the day.
Around eleven minutes, Brunt, nominally a left-back of course, delivered a pearler of a cross that Morrison, continually breaking into the box in the first half, couldn't get a touch on, although his attempted touch may have caught Rondon on the hop as it flashed past him as well.
Ten minutes later and Chadli would be involved in setting up Fletcher, and the skipper just about troubled the keeper enough to register another shot on target, whilst Chadli would be involved in another breakout fifteen or so minutes later, which resulted in Rondon asking a lot more of the keeper.
With a half in which Stoke had offered (or been allowed) next to nothing drawing to a close, Brunt, Morrison and, who else but, Chadli would combine to play in Phillips but he was just a bit too slow to ready himself for a shot and so the one he did come up with was soft enough to be deflected away.
However, with the half-time fat-lady entertainment still to start warming up, Stoke would remind everyone just how slender a one-nil lead, despite it being one of the most comfortable of on-nil leads we've seen in a long time, is, as Allen appeared out of nowhere and found himself all alone in the six-yard-box, all alone that is but for Foster, although a better header from the stooping Welshman, would surely have given Albion's usual hero no chance.
Whilst the second half would easily be as comfortable as the first, it wouldn't offer anything like the on-the-front-foot pattern of it, though perhaps the halftime talk has mentioned that Stoke's run of going behind and failing to come back to win games was in the high teens and so they could go back to the usual stuff.
Twenty minutes into the second half and Chadli's excellent showing was brought to an end as he, as he usually does, gave way for McClean, although there was something unusual about this change, as Foster got booked for timewasting (with 25 minutes to go?!).
Perhaps it had been Chadli's excellent showing that got McClean even more revved up than usual but whatever it was, only five minutes after coming on, he would jink inside and crack a right-footed that brought a fine save out of the Stoke keeper as it headed for the top corner.
Maybe Stoke checked the scoreboard at this point and saw that it was still only 1-0 because, five minutes later, with ten to go, they'd create a golden opportunity to draw level as Albion simply forgot to pickup Pieters at their back right post but, with the goal at his mercy, he could only steer the free header across it and wide for a goal kick.
Albion would seek comfort from that shock by more of the usual, with HRK coming on for the usual five minutes or so, it being an eighteenth sub's appearance, apparently, although with time being run down, Field would get a chance to have Morrison applauded off, replacing him for the briefest of cameos.
But what a cameo, as, just when you thought it was all over, it's not now, as first Field and Rondon combined to manufacture a swift break to set up Livermore, although Jake merely got to remind us of that he was replacing a defensive midfielder as the chance went begging, and then, as if, for one final time, to highlight the slenderness of a one-nil lead, Stoke counter-attacked our counter-attack and Foster finally had to do something as he was forced into dealing with a deflection off McAuley as the latter looked to block Stoke's break into our box.
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