Writer: Tom Mckeon
Date:Friday July 29 2011
A Jon Walters 3rd minute header was enough to see off Hajduk Split at the Britannia Stadium and leave Stoke with a slender advantage heading into next thursday's return leg.
The Potters were fast out of the blocks, a Rory Delap pass was picked up by Etherington on the left, he evaded his man before swinging a lovely cross towards the back post which was met by Jon Walters, the former Ipswich man guiding the ball beyond the keeper to give Stoke an early lead.
The visitors were clearly rattled, only moments later Kenwyne Jones found the net but his effort was ruled out for what seemed to be either offside or the ball running out of play.
Chances for the Potters continued to flow before the interval, Shawcross was denied twice, firstly from a Delap throw in as he flicked the ball past the keeper, only to see a defender clear the ball of the line. A free kick also provided Shawcross with the chance to double Stoke's lead but the skipper failed to find a way past Hajduk keeper Danijel Subasic.
Etherington had been nursing a knock prior to kick off and he was clearly feeling the effects, however the winger oozes quality and his cross which set up the only goal of the match was a piece of class which Stoke's visitors lacked tonight.
Hajduk were neat, tidy and organised, the Croatians threatened at times but Stoke were rarely troubled and the defensive duo of Shawcross and Huth looked at ease - despite the best efforts of Hajduk number 99 Anas Sharbini.
An uneventful second half saw both teams fail to make many inroads and the last 15 minutes will be remembered more for the Hajduk Split fans' antics as several flares were let off, rather than what was occurring on the pitch.
However, Huth could've extended the lead in the final minutes, the colossal defender turned inside the area before firing a shot well wide of the goal.
Tony Pulis, on the official site, said :
"We deserved to win the game by two or three goals and we're disappointed we haven't done so in the end, but as experienced European campaigners will tell you, keeping a clean sheet in the home leg is so important.
"If we score a goal over there now, they will need at least three to prevent us from going through so that makes it very interesting."
He added: "It will be very tough out there because they are a good side and apparently their crowd is nearly as noisy as ours. But we have nothing to lose because this is a new experience for us and so we will relish the challenge."
So, we've truly arrived in Europe, tonight the Britannia faithful were even treated to a Croatian announcer on the tannoy!
A win is a win, but I get the feeling both teams will be satisfied with the result tonight, ideally Stoke would've grabbed another to give ourselves a better chance in the return leg but we kept a clean sheet, all we have to do is do the same next week and we're through. Although, whilst we will believe we have enough to see it out, 35,000 Split fans will be having other ideas.
Man of the match : Rory Delap.
The 35-year-old epitomised the solid, unspectacular, but satisfying Stoke display, not only breaking up the play but laying a beautiful pass to Etherington who set up the only goal of the night. In all honesty, there wasn't really one player who stood out tonight, but Rory proved he still has a part to play.
Date:Friday July 29 2011
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