Stoke red mist descends again
Stadium of Light
7th Feb 2008
It had been hoped that this would be the game that signalled signs of some more productive away form, but instead we were treated to yet another yet red card for some petulant behaviour and three injuries within the first 25 minutes, one of which could prove costly for the Potters.
Tony Pulis started with Ricardo Fuller and James Beattie up front, with Richard Cresswell taking up Rory Delap's slot in midfield. There was a welcome return for Salif Diao, whose trip to a specialist in Monaco the week before had provided a miraculous cure to his calf muscle injury that had sidelined him since before Christmas. There was a debut for new defender, Stephen Kelly who replaced Danny Pugh, but the other new signing, Henri Camara, was forced to start from the bench.
Those hardy souls that made the long, snowy trip to Wearside would have been expecting a better performance from the Potters, but the game plan started to unravel early on. Andy Wilkinson and Ryan Shawcross were both forced to limp off early on with recurrence of injury niggles and, most worryingly, Ricardo Fuller had to be substituted after dislocated his shoulder with half time still twenty minutes away. Despite Stoke being forced to bring on Danny Pugh, Ibrahima Sonko and Henri Camara for the injured trio, the Potters' held together well in the first half. Cresswell nearly had some spectacular success early on after we'd been awarded a free kick on the left hand edge of the penalty area. Whelan's kick fell to Cresswell, whose bicycle kick left the Sunderland defence stranded and only went narrowly wide.
With Rob Styles in the middle, the game was always set for some controversy and, for once, it was the Potters who were the first beneficiaries. With just five minutes to go to half time, Malbranque had a header at point blank range cleared off the line by Pugh. TV replays showed that Danny had clearly handled the ball (possibly even after it went over the line), but neither Styles or the assistant noticed to the wrath of the home side. With that in mind and half time to contemplate, maybe Mr. Styles was trying to make amends twenty minutes into the restart. An innocuous looking incident between Collins and Matt Etherington gave the referee the chance to pull out both cards. Collins earned a yellow for the challenge on Etherington and a free kick for Stoke, but Etherington's minor retaliation earned him a harsh red.
But the resulting free kick from Glenn Whelan into the box provided the Potters with a great chance to take the lead. With the ball ricocheting around the six yard box, Camara's shot went over the bar when scoring would have been easier.
The match had been finely poised up to that point, but it was backs to the goal for the Potters with Camara forced to play behind Beattie and with the Black Cats' now scenting the chance of a goal, they piled forward.
The Potters hung on with Cisse and Edwards coming close, but with just 12 minutes remaining it was a former Stoke player who put the first nail in the coffin. Kenwyne Jones, who was once on loan at the Brit whilst at Southampton, was on hand to head the ball in. Then, with just seconds to go of added-on time, Stoke fell further behind with a strike from Healy.
With three worrying injuries and yet another red card for a stupid off the ball incident, this was not a happy time for the travelling Potters' fans. Up to Etherington's dismissal we were matching Sunderland without difficulty, even if we were a bit fortunate with Pugh's goal line defending. At least we've now got a two week break to try and get the injured back to some sort of fitness before the visit of Pompey to the Brit.
The main consideration for TP needs to be the lack of discipline that is crippling the Potters. The public disagreement between Griffin and Fuller sidelined the Jamaican international for three games. Delap's kicking out at Wright-Phillips last weekend has seen him kicking his heels and now we have Etherington also unavailable for similarly petulant behaviour. Injuries can be regarded as inevitable, red cards under these circumstances cannot.
Sunderland: Fulop, Bardsley, Ferdinand, Collins, McCartney, Malbranque (Edwards 70), Whitehead, Richardson, Reid (Murphy 82), Jones, Cisse (Healy 86)
Subs not used: Gordon, Ben-Haim, Leadbitter, Davenport
Stoke City: Sorensen, Wilkinson (Pugh 18), Shawcross (Sonko 26), Abdoulaye Faye, Kelly, Cresswell, Whelan, Diao, Etherington, Fuller (Camara 30), Beattie.
Subs not used: Simonsen, Olofinjana, Lawrence, Kitson