Late Liam sees off Rovers
Liam Lawrence gave Stoke a huge boost in their Premier League survival quest as his second half winner was enough to oust Blackburn in a slugfest at the Brit. The number seven popped up at the back post to fire his effort under Paul Robinson to give Stoke a comfortable eight point cushion back to 18th placed Newcastle.
Potters chief Tony Pulis had the luxury of being able to select the same eleven that drew with Newcastle, after James Beattie pulled through despite needing twelve stitches in a head wound last Saturday. Blackburn lined up with Christophe Samba in his natural position of central defence rather than upfront after Sam Alladyce decided to hand a start to South African Benny McCarthy, who netted twice against the Potters in December.
Stoke almost took the lead twice during a frantic start in which the home side dominated. James Beattie almost instinctively diverted Glenn Whelan`s wayward volley into the far corner but instead cleared the cross bar, and moments later the lively Ricardo Fuller`s cross was inches away from the toe of Matthew Etherington.
After surviving the early Potters onslaught Rovers awoke as they started to apply pressure through the dangerous Morten Gamst-Pedersen. The Norwegian volleyed wide but his main threat throughout the afternoon was his version of the Delap throw that posed questions to the Potters rear guard. There, answering the questions, was the immaculate Abdoulaye Faye who produced yet another man of the match performance alongside the steady Ryan Shawcross.
Blackburn almost nicked a goal in bizarre circumstances. A rare lapse in concentration by Abdoulaye Faye saw him almost head past keeper Sorensen, fortunately the Dane reacted quick enough to pluck the ball out of the air to save the captains embarrassment.
Stoke almost used their aerial threat which outdid both Newcastle and Middlesbrough in recent weeks to good effect. Full-back Danny Higginbotham met Lawrence`s corner first but his glance sailed wide of former England keeper Robinson`s post, the former Manchester United trainee was looking to double his season`s goal tally after his penalty against Tottenham in October.
The hungry Ricardo Fuller and 24,000 Stokies in the stands were left amazed by referee Howard Webb`s decision not to award a penalty after the Jamaican was blatantly tripped by Chris Samba.
Unfortunately for the home side Andy Wilkinson was forced to make way for Stephen Kelly minutes into the second period. Wilkinson`s troublesome back was the problem as Pulis wisely didn`t want to take any risks with Stoke`s first choice right-back.
Pulis`s half time team talk inspired Stoke as they came out with fire inside them. Liam Lawrence`s stinging volley was superbly kept out by Paul Robinson as the crowd raised the volume by several decibels.
Stoke almost hit the front again as Lawrence`s superb cross picked out Matthew Etherington. As he arrived he powered a header inches past the post which had Robinson well beaten, that almost gave him his first Potters goal he has been craving for. Finally Blackburn`s resistance gave way though with fifteen minutes remaining. After Beattie expertly flicked the ball on Lawrence found himself in a pocket of space , after cutting inside Givet he fiercely drove the ball under Robinson, who couldn`t manage to get enough on the ball to prevent the goal. The stadium erupted with joy as Stoke fans sensed survival was almost assured. A special moment for Lawrence who has missed much of the season but has certainly retuned at the right time to aid Stoke`s survival bid.
Blackburn`s desperate search for an equaliser was made impossible by Thomas Sorensen, the Potters number one choice showed superb hands as he claimed every cross and throw that was launched near the goal. Stoke held on and momentarily climb to 11th in the table and eight points clear of relegation.