Stoke's new boys shine
Both Potters' fans and team can be proud. At long last, the Potters turned on some style in front of a home crowd who got behind the team from the kick-off. The expected 'red card' protest against manager, Tony Pulis was put 'on hold' before the game and a larger than expected gate came to see new signings Ricardo Fuller and Lee Hendrie. The only dampener on the day was that Stoke did not come away with the required three points against a good Preston team who arrived with high expectations and were left counting their blessings to walk away with their unbeaten run still intact.
Carl Hoefkens returned to the starting line-up after Clint Hill's sending off last week at Wolves cost him his place with Danny Higginbotham switching to his more natural central defensive role. Lee Hendrie, signed on loan from Aston Villa, come onto the right wing after Luke Chadwick was still not deemed fit. Ricardo Fuller partnered Mamade Sidibe up front.
Preston initially started brightly and Nugent could have given the visitors an early lead but for a mistimed header. The referee, Andy Woolmer, indicated early on that he would not be taking any prisoners with bookings for Michael Duberry and Darel Russell within the first ten minutes. Duberry's foul looked very innocuous and, at worst, should have just reprimanded for a fractionally late tackle.
After 15 minutes, Lee Hendrie, starting to show some of his Premiership ability, managed to create some space in the Preston penalty area and following Peter Sweeney's cross, hit the ball from five yards with the Preston keeper just able to kick it away.
Stoke now seemed to regain some confidence and it was the new boys, Fuller and Hendrie who managed to carve out the best chances. Several good moves between the two created chances for Russell and Hoefkens, culminating in Hendries's own dipping shot that bounced off the top of the crossbar.
Stoke were in full control and even encouraged the Boothen End into an early 'Delilah'. Further good moves, with Stoke using the wings far better than other games this season, were opening up the Preston defence time and time again and it was no surprise that Stoke took the lead in the 40th minute after Sweeney passed the ball to Fuller who was clear on the left hand side and easily knocked the ball past the keeper.
Stoke started the second half with the same confidence that they had ended the first and it was Fuller that again caused trouble in the Preston defence.
It was against the run of play that Preston finally scored. Since the opening minutes of the game, Preston had hardly troubled Steve Simonsen and they decided to throw another striker up front, bringing on Dichio. Within seconds, Stoke succumbed to a break away when a through ball from Sedgwick found danger man, Agyemang clear and the striker had no problem putting the ball past Simonsen.
Unusually at the Britannia this season, the Stoke fans responded in a positive manner and it was Stoke again that looked like they would regain the lead.
Fuller was replaced by Sam Bangoura as he seemed to succumb to the exertions of the day and Martin Paterson came on for Sweeney as the Potters attempted to keep the game alive.
Several chances came the Potters way. Andy Griffin suddenly found himself with the ball way back in the middle of the Stoke half after a Preston free-kick went wrong and with only a long run and the goalkeeper to beat, he found the going too tough. Then Hendrie, who was always to be found in the middle of any playmaking, had yet another clear chance on goal, but instead of just shooting, tried to go round the defender and lost the ball.
All in all, probably the best performance seen at the Brit this season. If Stoke can capture that spirit and determination - from the fans as well as the players - in the games to come, then it will not be long before we start moving up the table.
Stoke: Simonsen, Griffin, Hoefkens, Duberry, Higginbotham, Hendrie, Brammer, Russell, Sweeney (Paterson 78), Sidibe, Fuller (Bangoura 72).
Subs Not Used: Pulis, Whitley, Wilkinson.
Preston: Nash, Alexander, Chilvers, St. Ledger, Hill (Dichio 62), Sedgwick, McKenna, Pugh, Whaley (Neal 74), Agyemang (McCormack 79), Nugent.
Subs Not Used: Lonergan, Wilson.
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