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Stoke edge closer to Europa League last 32

Maccabi Tel Aviv
1 - 2
Stoke City

Bloomfield Stadium



Stoke continued their impressive Europa League away form last night as they cruised past Maccabi Tel Aviv in Israel, ending the home side's seven-year unbeaten home record in Europe.

The Potters are now flying high at the top of their group, and after this latest success, are on the verge of qualifying for the last 32, with just one point needed.

Dean Whitehead, running free from the infamous 'cage', scored and set up another as he stormed into the box and slid the ball underneath the keeper, before setting up Peter Crouch to seal the points from close-range.

Maccabi did manage to steal a late goal, but it was nothing more than a consolation as the Potters saw the game out with ease.

The Israeli outfit were neat and tidy on the ball, but despite being at home, their performance wasn't much different from the reverse fixture, when Stoke ran out 3-0 winners.

Ryan Shawcross' absence meant Matthew Upson was handed the captain's armband, with the former West Ham man taking his place alongside the returning Danny Higginbotham in the heart of the Stoke defence.

The opening 20 minutes seemed ominous for Maccabi Tel Aviv, as the Potters stroked the ball around without being under any pressure, and had chances from a number of set pieces.

Ryan Shotton threatened throughout, and it was his early throw in which was nearly converted by Kenwyne Jones, with the striker leaping and directing his header over the bar, as Maccabi struggled to deal with the Potters' aerial threat.

And City had another chance to take the lead soon after, as Robert Huth's header just evaded Tel Aviv's goal after a good delivery from Whitehead.

Maccabi weren't imposing themselves on the game, and they almost looked in two minds as to whether they should attack Stoke or sit behind the ball.

It was the home side's indecision which nearly cost them after the half hour mark, as a Robert Huth punt was looped over a high defensive line for Jones to chase, but after controlling the ball well, the striker's shot clipped a defender's foot and went out for a corner.

Although Stoke were enjoying most of the play, Maccabi did at least have a shot on Sorenson's goal as Shotton conceded a foul, but Zizov's resulting free kick didn't trouble the Dane.

The closest the Potters came to a breakthrough in the first half again came from the impressive Shotton, as his effort from 18-yards out deflected off Diao before striking the post.

And it wasn't long before Stoke threatened again, as Dean Whitehead, who was involved throughout the first half, drilled in a brilliant free kick towards Walters, but the striker headed the ball straight at Barak Levy.

However, if Stoke were unable to turn their chances into goals in the first half, they soon made amends in the second half.

A 14-minute spell saw Dean Whitehead take the game by the scrff of the neck, sending Stoke cruising.

The former Sunderland Captain latched onto a loose ball in the penalty area after good work from Jon Walters, and he made no mistake in firing past the Maccabi keeper from a tight angle.

Crouch was then brought on for Walters, and his impact was immediate.

Whitehead again broke free of the defence in the area and he put in a simple ball across the goal to the former England man, who made no mistake in guiding the ball home.

Just moments later, Crouch nearly doubled his tally.

A long ball was hit forward and he controlled the ball brilliantly, before firing a volley from 20-yards-out which grazed Levy's post.

Stoke were looking extremely comfortable, but remember, this is Stoke we're talking about, nothing is ever comfortable.

And so it proved in injury time, as Collauti's fine glancing header gave his side a small lifeline heading into the final seconds.

But it was all to late for Maccabi, and there wasn't really enough time for them to build any momentum as the referee blew his whistle to end the game.

Stoke now only need one point from their next Europa League encounter at home to Dynamo Kiev to qualify for the final 32.

Writer:Tom Mckeon
Date:Friday November 4 2011
Time: 3:37PM

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