Stoke ease past dire Wolves
Stoke climbed to 9th and ensured Premier League survival after a comfortable 3-0 win over Staffordshire rivals Wolves. First half goals from Kenwyne Jones and Ryan Shawcross gave Pulis`s side a deserved 2-0 lead and the visitors had keeper Wayne Hennessey to thank for keeping it at that.
Jermaine Pennant added a third after the break, but an apparent hamstring injury for Matthew Etherington has made him a serious doubt for the FA Cup final.
Tony Pulis kept faith with the same 11 that earnt a hard fought point at Aston Villa. Striker John Carew returned to the bench in place of the injured Ricardo Fuller as the Jamaican will now miss the rest of the season and will join Danny Higginbotham and Mamady Sidibe as long term casualties. In the Wolves side was former Potter Karl Henry and former loanee Jody Craddock.
Stoke looked very comfortable in the opening exchanges and Jermaine Pennant in particular looked lively. Wolves, who came into the match desperate for a win, looked dangerous themselves. Jamie O`Hara distributed the ball to all parts of the ground, and Matt Jarvis whipped in several dangerous crosses.
But just after the quarter hour mark Stoke took the lead with a fine goal. Shawcross played a long ball upfield for Kenwyne Jones, who`s first touch was superb as he battled Christophe Berra. He played the ball infield to Pennant who ran diagonally across the penalty box towards the corner flag. Somehow he dug out a perfect cross for Jones who was unmarked 6 yards out and he had the simple task of heading beyond Hennessey. That was Jones`s 4th in 4 games and 11th of the season and he looked hungry for more.
Pennant was untouchable all game and minutes later he chipped a weighted ball through for Andy Wilkinson who had sped past on the over lap down the right. From a tight angle he unleashed a firm shot that looked destined for the far corner, until Hennessey pushed it round the post with an excellent stop.
Wolves just couldn`t get a foothold, although they enjoyed long spells of possession they never looked like threatening Asmir Begovic in the Stoke goal. It looked very straightforward for the hosts until Etherington pulled up in the 30th minute, and fell to the ground with his arm in the air. It looked bad immediately and he was stretchered off with a hamstring injury and his chances of playing in the cup final look very slim, something that will please Roberto Mancini watching from the stands.
Dean Whitehead was Etherington`s replacement and he fitted in alongside Glenn Whelan in central midfield, while Rory Delap drafted across to the left. This didn`t knock the stuffing out of us however, as Walters set-up Jones for a free header in the box, which he blazed over. Wolves` defence looked very weak indeed.
As the first half drew to a close, Stoke looked eager to add a second and sub Whitehead should have done. Pennant was roaming free in central midfield and he slid an ideal ball through for Whitehead who was one-on-one with Hennessey. Unfortunately he hit his shot first time straight at the young Welshman and Wolves were saved.
But not for long as Shawcross got the second minutes later. A Pennant corner from the right was cleverly placed along the ground to the edge of the box for the incoming Whelan to have a shot at goal. His effort took a couple of deflections and fell for Stoke`s skipper who tapped it into an empty net. There was no way back for Wolves now.
Any worries that Pulis might have had that Wolves would have staged the same comeback as they did last season were washed away minutes into the second half as Pennant wrapped up the points. After absorbing much of Wolves early second half pressure Whelan released Jones and the Potters broke quickly. The Trinidadian bombed down the middle before sliding the ball for Walters on the right wing, his deflected cross fell perfectly for an unmarked Pennant at the far post and his deflected shot looped past Hennessey to kill the game.
The third goal seemed to wake Wolves up as they put the Potters under a sustained period of pressure through 4-5 consecutive corners. Berra missed a guilt edge chance from 4 yards as he rose unmarked to head over, while at the other end Huth came within inches of making contact with another wicked Pennant delivery.
There were late introductions for Danny Pugh and Salif Diao who came on for 15 minutes each as they helped Stoke push for a 4th. Walters, who is locked in combat with Jones for top goalscorer, came within inches of bettering his Wembley goal. After dispossessing Henry he turned and charged at the Wolves defence before unleashing a 25 yard shot that flew inches past the post.
Jones headed Pugh`s cross wide before a genius touch from the big striker set-up Whitehead, who unselfishly layed the ball to Pugh but his shot cleared the bar by at least 4 feet.
This win takes the Potters to 9th in the league, a leap of 5 places. Next up is an away trip to Blackpool this Saturday before Arsenal stroll into Stoke-On-Trent. Full Time: 3-0