Stoke break Boxing Day jinx
The mighty Potters overcame three long standing records at Ewood Park yesterday that have hung over us for far too long. It was our first Boxing Day win since we beat Bury 2-1 in 2000, the first time we've beaten Rovers away since 1986 and our first ever Premier League win in the month of December.
Tony Pulis only made one change from the team that was beaten by Blackpool two weeks ago, preferring Jon Walters over Ric Fuller alongside Kenwyne Jones. It wasn't a game for the purist and the temperature dipped to well below freezing leading to a dreary first half punctuated by a couple of golden opportunities for Stoke to go ahead. Rory Delap had the best early chance when he tried a cross for Jones, but it ended up being neither a shot on goal nor a cross that was anywhere close to the Stoke striker. A few minutes later, a trademark Rory Delap throw-in was glanced down by Ryan Shawcross towards the far post, but Matty Etherington managed to put the ball wide from just a couple of feet out as he attempted to guide it around the Rovers' keeper.
At the other end, it was a fairly tame affair with Rovers failing to offer much in the way of trying to warm up Asmir Begovic in the Stoke goal which gave some of the home fans cause to vent their anger as the teams came off for half-time.
The half time team talks seemed to have inspired both teams after the break, but it was the Potters who managed to capitalise first as Stoke made the most of a set-piece. An Etherington corner kick was picked up by Robert Huth, who had manoeuvred himself into acres of space as the ball came in and headed it into the far corner of the net with ease. After that it was all one way traffic, except for a couple of efforts which called Begovic into making some fine saves. Jones could have made it certain at the other end, but saw his header palmed over with a good save from Paul Robinson in the opposition goal.
As the minutes ticked away, Jermaine Pennant made way for Ricardo Fuller and Marc Wilson came on for Jones as TP looked to hold on to what we had. But for second time this season, things didn't go the way he'd planned. At West Brom a few weeks ago, the manager had brought on Jon Walters and told him to keep it tight as we held out for a win at The Hawthorns and he then went on and scored and Wilson, now doubt, was given the same instructions, but he also completely ignored the gaffer and also scored deep into added-on time after Ric Fuller's cross had found the former Pompey player unmarked in the centre of the penalty area. He had plenty of time to control the ball and then fired it confidently past Robinson into the corner of the net.
The only sour notes were the number of bookings which we picked up, mainly for late tackles which the referee, Mike Jones, deemed worthy of a yellow card and Shawcross's inclusion in his list moves him to one card away from a one match ban. Also, our most influential player, Matthew Etherington, picked a knee injury which prompted TP to err on the side of caution and bring on Glenn Whelan. Hopefully, he'll be fit for tomorrow's match against Fulham.