Stoke rule Besiktas at the Britannia
The Britannia Stadium
Stoke brushed aside Turkish giants Besiktas last night in their first ever Europa league group stage match at the Britannia Stadium.
Besiktas took the lead in the 14th minute , but a quick reply from Peter Crouch and an emphatically finished penalty from Jonathan Walters means the Potters are now sitting at the top of the group, with successive home and away fixtures to come against Maccabi El Haifa.
Besiktas lined up with the likes of Ricardo Quaresma, Portugal veteran Simao, and former Everton Loanee Manuel Fernandez.
However, those hoping to catch a glimpse of the former Real Madrid star, Guti, were to be disappointed after the Besiktas skipper was ruled out of the encounter with an injury.
Whilst the Potters recalled Cameron Jerome to the starting line-up after his exploits in Kiev, Pulis also brought in Dean Whitehead, Wilson Palacios and Ryan Shotton at the expense of the Pennant, Whelan, Walters and Wilkinson, who were visibly rested after barnstorming performances against United.
The test promised to be sterner than our previous European matches, and it proved so, it was just the matter of whether the technical quality of the Turkish side would prevail against Stoke`s scarily effective organisation and energy.
And from the off, Besiktas were eager to impress their boisterous travelling army, comfortably keeping possession and content in forcing the issue - it was clear to see that Stoke would have their hands full at times.
But Stoke have their own weapons, and whilst Delap`s throw has been largely exaggerated in the media, it`s still a force to be reckoned with, and the 35-year-old`s torpedos caused problems for Besiktas in the earlier stages.
However, Rustu Recber, the very experienced and well-known Turkish stopper, seemed to have a brilliant tactic in attempting to ward off the threat of Delap.
Throw yourself in towards a pack of players and fall over as though you have been fouled" was the order of the day for Rustu, and with the European ref being unsurprisingly strict, it was to no surprise that the chosen tactic worked.
The Besiktas keeper was clearly wary of Stoke`s set pieces though, and a whipped corner from Dean Whitehead caused him further problems, but the 38-year-old again escaped punishment from a Stoke team looking to bombard the Besiktas defence.
The Turkish Cup winners have far more pedigree than a bloke sporting black paint under his eyes though, and a long-range effort from the classy Quaresma, which flew over the bar, emphasised the Turkish threat.
And it wasn`t long until that very threat created the opening goal, Quaresema found himself with room between Stoke`s midfield and defence, and the Besiktas playmaker played a beautifully weighted pass into the path of the onrushing Hilbert.
The German then beat his fellow countrymen Robert Huth to the ball, and fired the ball past Thomas Sorenson and into the bottom corner of the net - to the delight of the Turkish fans at the other end of the stadium.
However, this is Stoke City we`re talking about , if anything the goal galvanised the Potters and just moments later, Stoke were level.
Another Whitehead corner saw Rustu and his defence panic, and Peter Crouch was on the spot to prod the ball home, continuing his excellent start in a Stoke City shirt with another well-taken goal.
Stoke were now on the up, and Matty Etherington burst down the left hand side and provided a decent cross towards Cameron Jerome, but the former Birmingham man was back-peddling and forced a looping header over the bar.
Despite a promising period for the Potters - Manuel Fernandes, the besiktas number four in the middle of the park, was beginning to get a hold of the game and his eye for a pass and disgustingly good ball-control was epitomised when he shimmied around Dean Whitehead before firing a stinging effort which Sorenson palmed away.
The former Everton midfielder`s masterful first half display was epitomised when he was in danger of being crowded out by a bunch of Stoke players, but a majestic back-heel got his side on their way again as the Turks searched for a goal before half-time.
However, his concentration did lapse for one second and had Matty Etherington released the ball quicker when Stoke were on the charge, it could`ve cost his team dearly.
Ryan Shotton`s impressive performances for Stoke have been a welcome surprise this season after a couple of loan ventures in recent years to Tranmere and Barnsley, and a typical burst forward saw the born and bread Stokie beat two Besiktas men before laying the ball back for Rory Delap to provide a low cross, but the ball found it`s way to Etherington whose effort was deflected out for a corner.
As the referee called time on the first half, both of the sides were probably content with their work, and the second half certainly promised to be as pulsating as the first.
Pulis decided the freshen things up as star men Jermaine Pennant and Jon Walters entered the fray, along with the rejuvenated Ireland international Glenn Whelan.
Matty Etherington, Cameron Jerome and Wilson Palacios were sacrificed, with the latter still looking short of match fitness , however, a quality pass from the Honduran which saw Jon Walters hit the bar from the right hand side of the penalty area, was at least a pleasing glimpse of a player who`ll be a massive asset for the club.
Stoke pressed for the decisive goal in the opening stages of the second half, and Ryan Shawcross should`ve done better with a close-range header from a Jermaine Pennant free-kick.
The game then entered a cagey period as both teams attempted to wrestle a hold of the match, with Stoke`s warriors crowding around Besiktas` ball players in the hope of winning the ball and countering.
However, Ricardo Quaresma against Robert Huth in his unfavoured position at left back was always going to be a mis-match, and the Portugese Winger was beginning to torment the Potters` defence.
The former Inter Milan star nearly restored his team`s lead with a rasping drive which took a deflection off Huth`s outstretched leg and looped towards the goal.
Sorenson was beaten all ends up, but to his relief, the ball struck the inside of the post and he gathered at the second opportunity.
It was beginning to look as though the game would end in a draw, with both teams cancelling each other out.
However, as Stoke fans roared their team on, a Jermaine Pennant cross did find Rory Delap unmarked, but his rushed effort flew over the bar, with Rustu left stranded on the spot.
In the 77th minute though, Stoke fans' prayers were finally answered as the referee awarded the Potters a penalty after Peter Crouch was pulled down in the area.
Jonathan Walters introduction saw Stoke`s energy levels rise and rise, and it was he who stepped up and made no mistake in smashing the ball just to the left of Rustu`s goal, sending the keeper the wrong way.
There was still time for Besiktas to level, but Stoke`s high-line was proving hard to break down as The Potters refused to sit back on a lead in the manner which we`ve seen them do on so many occasions over the years.
The Turkish side do have quality footballers though, and there was always going to be some pressure in the closing stages of the match.
Ryan Shotton had to be alert on two separate occasions as crosses were fired in from the dangerous Quaresema, but with the onrushing Edu in sight, Shotton managed to head clear.
One final clear-cut chance was always going to fall for Besiktas though, as was their quality.
And it was their striker, Edu, who found himself in a great position on the left hand side of the penalty area, but his effort was expertly saved by Thomas Sorenson.
Three minutes were added on by the fourth official, but Stoke saw the game out comfortably and the referee called time on Stoke`s first ever win in the Europa League Group stage, sparking a party-atmosphere at the full-time whistle as Stoke fans saluted their heroes.
Player ratings and post-match comments will appear later this afternoon