Brilliant Stoke outclass Liverpool
A fantastic all round performance saw Stoke beat Liverpool for the first time in 27 years, 2-0. Second half goals from Ricardo Fuller and Kenwyne Jones sealed the win for the dominant Potters, who should also have had a first half penalty. Stoke were the far superior team and fully deserved their win, which lifts them into the top half of the table. What a difference a week makes.
Tony Pulis made two changes in defence from the side that beat Birmingham on Tuesday. Captain Ryan Shawcross returned after his suspension and partnered Robert Huth at centre back. This came as a surprise following Abdoulaye Faye`s exclusion from the squad, while Andy Wilkinson came in for a rare start. Upfront Pulis kept faith with Ricardo Fuller despite teasing the media that he may be rested.
This looked to have worked as Fuller charged around early on, quite uncharacteristically, as he tormented both Liverpool central defenders Skrtel and Kyrgiakos. The Potters were on top and should have been awarded a clear cut penalty after just a hand full of minutes, when Fuller went down in the box under the challenge of Maxi Rodriguez. No penalty was awarded but the Jamaican was still to leave his mark on the game.
Stoke dominated the shell shocked Reds in the opening stages as Delap`s throws were looking dangerous from every angle. Dean Whitehead, outstanding in midfield, almost followed up his first league goal for Stoke with another, but his fierce drive from 25 yards was expertly saved by Pepe Reina. Kenwyne Jones should have at least worked the Spanish number two when he rose unchallenged from a Jermaine Pennant corner, but he planted his header just inches wide. Whilst Whitehead had a more spectacular effort than the first, with a fearsome volley from even further out that had Reina beaten, but sadly it just went wide.
Liverpool were toothless in attack. Fernando Torres cut a frustrated figure as he had no joy against the exceptional Ryan Shawcross. Rory Delap also enjoyed a masterful display as he and Whitehead contained Steven Gerrard and nullified his influence on his team. Stoke were just class all round.
Robert Huth was, again, winning everything in the air and he almost flicked a Delap throw into Pennant`s path. But Liverpool came into the game and Asmir Begovic was forced to make a couple of sharp saves. Firstly, Gerrard wriggled free of Delap`s tight marking and unleashed a trademark long range shot. Luckily he didn`t make sweet contact, but it was still dangerous enough that Begovic needed to tip it round the post. Raul Meireles then weaved his way past Collins, Huth and Delap but his shot was weak from the edge of the box.
Liverpool threatened to explode into life but instead offered absolutely nothing. It was the hosts doing all the running and they wasted a guilt edge chance to take the lead. Fuller`s new found work ethic was working as he harrowed the defenders into a mistake. Jones made an intelligent run and his Caribbean strike partner guided it through to him perfectly. But Jones`s first touch let him down and after being forced out wide, he fired a low cross across goal but Etherington couldn`t stretch long enough to divert it in.
We dominated the first half, but in the back of my mind I always expected Liverpool to come to life at some point.
That point wasn`t until after half-time as Stoke pushed for the breakthrough. Pennant`s deliveries were spot on and with a more adventurous right-back in Andy Wilkinson to help, the pair were causing Paul Konchesky mayhem. But our new super smooth, silky football wasn`t working and we resorted to a more traditional method to break down Liverpool`s stubborn defence.
Delap launched a rocket into the box and Reina, being the small fella he is, couldn`t deal with it. Huth had the first chance 4 yards` out but he opted for Etherington instead, his low cross found Fuller who, on the second attempt, poked the ball home. This was the second crucial goal he has scored this week, and he is now just one away from reaching the milestone of 50 goals for Stoke.
So far this season Stoke have had a habit of conceding just after scoring, and it took a wonderful reaction save from Begovic to preserve the lead. Kuyt beat Collins down the right and pulled back for Maxi, however his shot was instinctively caught just as it was flying in. Stoke looked like they were sitting back and inviting pressure but with Whitehead and Delap, Liverpool didn`t have a chance. At the other end Jones`s left foot volley just missed the far post.
The visitors` attack subsided, was this all they had? They were arguing amongst themselves and were an absolute shambles. But we don`t care. Walters, on in place of Fuller, broke down the left and almost curled a shot into the top corner but it wasn`t to be. It looked like being a nervous last few minutes but Jones settled all matters in injury time.
Wilkinson picked the ball up inside the centre circle and spread it wide to Pennant, after superbly retaining possession he slipped Jones through 1-1. Thankfully he showed no nerves with a deadly finish to kill the game.
There was still time for Lucas to earn himself a second yellow card for a reckless tackle on Etherington. As cries of 'time to go` rang round the stadium, Mark Halsey blew time on a famous win for the Potters which lifts them to 10th. Next is a trip to West Brom and remember 'we always beat West Brom`.