Stoke limp to Hull victory
Stoke have finally passed the 40 point barrier with a comfortable but scrappy 2-0 victory over relegation strugglers Hull. An early Ricardo Fuller strike sent the Potters on their way but the game settled into long periods of dreary, one dimensional and disjointed football that suited the visitors. Stoke didn`t react well to this but battled on and found a second through Liam Lawrence who`s cool finish ended any chance that Hull had of salvaging something.
With only six games to go for the Tigers the prospect of Championship football is quickly become a reality if they don`t turn things around and fast. Today they severely lacked any fighting spirit and were subsequently brought back to Earth after last week`s win over Fulham.
Stoke manager Tony Pulis made one change from the side that condemned West Ham to defeat last Saturday with goal scorer Ricardo Fuller replacing Mama Sidibe upfront. Dean Whitehead returned from his one match ban and sat on the bench alongside Ryan Shawcross who is now fit after suffering from Ankle problems.
Hull were unable to play centre-half Ibrahima Sonko, who the Tigers have on loan from Stoke, due to League rules but Seyi Olofinjana, who was apart of the Potters survival campaign last year but signed for Hull, was among the subs.
Pulis`s men made the brighter start and were in front after just six minutes. A long ball upfield from popular German Robert Huth was flicked on superbly from Dave Kitson into the path of Fuller. The Jamaican held off Hull defender Paul McShane and superbly guided the ball with the outside of his foot past the helpless keeper. Fuller paid the price though as McShane`s last ditch tackle left him with a painful ankle that hindered the rest of his game.
Hull then looked vulnerable but Stoke were infuriating and failed to capitalize. Glenn Whelan in the centre of midfield struggled to pick out a pass and his new partnership with Delap didn`t seem to work. On the wings both Etherington and Lawrence were starved of the ball and were unable to attack the exposed full-backs. Meanwhile Dave Kitson upfront was making a menace of himself. He allowed no Hull player time on the ball and won many aerial challenges in an unsung performance that warranted more then he got.
Stoke almost added a second when Fuller went close after Etherington`s low cross was allowed to run by Whelan. Fuller`s poke at goal was easily blocked though. Kitson also went close a couple of times with headers but a scrappy opening period finished 1-0.
Fuller`s ankle got the better of him and at the interval he was wisely brought off and Tuncay was thrown on to change the game. Unfortunately it was worse and despite the best efforts of the team they struggled to get a strangle hold on the game. Hull midfielder Jimmy Bullard proved to be the only real threat that Hull posed and he went close with a couple of free-kicks.
Referee Lee Probert started to dish out yellow cards and Kitson, Tuncay and Abdoulaye Faye all had their names taken. This didn`t help the home fans mood but it provoked a response from them which in turn inspired the players to up the tempo.
Danny Higginbotham, who was part of a strong and stable back four, headed Lawrence`s free-kick over the bar as the Potters started to impose themselves more on the opposition. The introduction of Dean Whitehead numbed the effect of Bullard and it looked as if the Potters were going to put the game to bed.
Etherington had more time and space in the second half and his driving run and cross saw Tuncay go for the spectacular over head kick. However an unfortunate turn of events saw the Turk connect with Hull captain George Boateng instead of the ball. With Boateng down and seemingly out cold the players were all at panic stations in similar scenes to that of Aaron Ramsey`s broken leg a month ago. Boateng was stretchered off and will stay in hospital overnight after suffering facial injuries. Hull had by this point already used their allocated three substitutions and so was forced to play the remaining ten minutes with ten men.
Stoke looked to take advantage and should have made it two. A poor clearance from Hull keeper Boaz Myhill fell to Tuncay 30 yards out and he had only two defenders between him and the gaping net. An awful finish saw him drag his shot horribly wide to even further aggravate the crowd.
Ref Lee Probert then perhaps should have shown a red card to Hull sub Geovanni. The Brazilian playmaker lunged in with his studs showing on Etherington and is considered lucky to escape with a yellow. If he would have properly connected with Etherington, the winger may have suffered a nasty injury.
Minutes later 28 year-old Etherington supplied the killer pass that allowed Lawrence to seal the game. After receiving a ball from Tuncay he calmly played it across to the unmarked Lawrence who placed his shot into the far corner. A brilliant finish from Lawrence which ended his disappointing and ineffective display on the right
The full-time result means that Stoke climb to tenth place on 42 points and next make the short trip to Wolves for a Staffordshire Derby. The next target is to better last season`s tally of 45 points. Something they should easily achieve.
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