Stoke's festive hangover
Just over 23,000 came and saw Sheffield Wednesday dominate a disappointing day for the Potters who seemed to have had just a few too many mince pies the day before.
This was a game that on paper Stoke should have won, but the Owls arrived fresh from a good draw with Southampton on Saturday (thanks to a late equaliser from keeper, Mark Crossley) and showed from the outset that they were more determined than the home side to take the three points. Stoke never seemed to impose their usual midfield domination and created few chances up front with the normally rock-solid defence starting to show worrying signs of a small leak on its left flank. Stoke fans will point to various factors that may have swung the game - was Wednesday's first goal off-site? Should Andrews have been sent off for retaliating after being brought down by Lee Hendrie and not just booked?
The Owls' first goal in the 34th minute from Steve MacLean was the result of some swift outmaneuvering of the Stoke defence from Wayne Andrews giving MacLean an easy shot past Steve Simonsen.
The second half saw the referee see yellow on no less than ten occasions - a sure sign of a referee losing the plot - as this was not a rough match by any standards. Lee Hendrie, now seemingly the target of too many 'late' challenges from slower, less nimble defenders drew the wrath of Andrews after inflicting such a challenge in return on the on-loan Coventry striker. But unlike the instant red that Ricardo Fuller saw against the Sky Blues in October after a similar incident, both players received a yellow.
When Stoke did equalise, it was one of the few well coordinated moves of the game for Stoke. Salif Diao, with a beautifully incisive through ball, found Hendrie who crossed the ball into the penalty area to perfectly find the head of Mamady Sidibe, who had no difficulty heading past Crossley and into the net for his third goal of the season.
Based on past performances, it seemed as though the Potters would then go on and wrap up the game, but the Owls had different plans. Stoke's defence wobbled on several occasions and the Stoke attack failed to conjure anything else of note. On 79 minutes, Wednesday sub and former Stoke hero, Deon Burton put the finishing touches to the Sheffield celebrations. With Simonsen managing to parry the first shot on goal from Tudgay and Lunt's follow-up cannoning off a defender, it was then left to Burton to fire home the winner.
Not a game to remember for the Potters. Captain, Michael Duberry commented afterwards that 'it was a bad day at the office'. If Stoke think that they really are promotion candidates then there cannot be any more games like this. At least there is a quick chance to make amends with a winnable game (based on form at least) on Saturday against current relegation favourites, Leeds United and the Championship's 'favourite' manager, Dennis Wise.
Stoke City: Simonsen, Hoefkens, Duberry, Higginbotham, Hill (Dickinson 57), Lawrence, Russell, Diao, Hendrie (Berger 87), Sidibe (Pericard 87), Fuller.
Subs not used: Eustace, Brammer.
Booked: Hendrie, Duberry, Diao.
Sheff Wed: Crossley, Simek, Bougherra, Bullen, Spurr, Andrews (Burton 74), Whelan, Brunt (O'Brien 80), Lunt, MacLean, Tudgay.
Subs not used: Adamson, Coughlan, Folly.
Booked: Andrews, Tudgay, Brunt, Simek, Bougherra, Lunt, Burton.
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