Stoke get vital victory
Stoke City kept their play-off hopes alive with a vital 4-2 win over mid table Leicester City. Whilst the scoreline may flatter to deceive slightly, there is no doubt that the Potters deserved their win in what was, arguably, the best game of football seen at the Brit for quite a while.
This had already been billed as a 'must-win game' and with the club physio treating 17 squad members over the past week, there was always a big worry that Tony Pulis would be forced into some changes.
As it was, Gabriel Zakuani replaced the suspended Andy Griffin in a rejigged back four with Danny Higginbotham taking care of the left back slot, Mama Sidibe was dropped to the bench to allow Jon Parkin to start alongside Ric Fuller. John Eustace returned to the starting eleven in place of Salif Diao and Lee Martin continued to hold the fort on the wing for Lee Hendrie who returned from injury to sit on the bench alongside the young Hungarian international, Adam Vass.
The Foxes arrived at the Brit, along with new owner and Pulis' former boss, Milan Mandaric, in need of the three points nearly as much as the Potters, but for the opposite reasons, having had no win since the middle of February and been on the end of three defeats since then. Although out of the relegation battle for now, they know that they are still not safe yet. The Potters had to get three points to maintain any chance of keeping in touch with the play-off chasing pack.
Stoke forced the early pressure, but it was the Foxes that took the early lead in the 16th minute when Steve Simonsen lost his grip on the ball after a hard challenge from Kisnorbo. Both teams then waited for the referee's non-existent whistle before Kenton easily side-footed the ball into the Stoke net. It did not take long for a newly fired-up Stoke side to bring the two teams back on to level terms. Fuller's run down the wing and subsequent cross to Liam Lawrence was duly passed on to Jon Parkin, unmarked in front of goal, for the simplest of tap-ins from six yards.
Stoke's second arrived courtesy of Leicester's Kenton, who caught Ricardo Fuller in the penalty area. The resulting penalty was taken by Fuller who calmly knocked the ball to the keeper's left. Stoke then rode their luck with a sustained fight back from the Foxes and would got back on to level terms before the break but for some fine saves from Steve Simonsen.
After the break, Carl Dickinson was substituted for Darel Russell, who had picked up a slight hamstring injury. Pulis did not seem to want to risk his fellow midfielder, Lee Hendrie so early in the game and chose to push Carl Hoefkens up into midfield to let Dickinson slot into the back four.
Maybe this rearrangement gave the visitors the chance they needed, for in the 57th minute Leicester caught Stoke on the break and with four against three had the numerical advantage to wrong foot Simonsen to bring the sides back on level terms.
With the need to score now paramount, Pulis then replaced Jon Parkin with Mamade Sidibe up front. Parkin's extra training seemed to have paid off as the big striker had been more on the pace than in previous games, but Sidibe's fresh legs were a vital addition at the time. Lee Hendrie came on to bolster the attack in favour of Lee Martin and these two changes helped create Stoke's third. Sidibe's pass to Fuller just in the visitors' half allowed Sidibe to run in and Fuller's subsequent cross back to Sidibe was coolly hit past the keeper.
If there were any last minute worries, these were banished in the four minutes of added on time when a miscue by Fuller, after trying to run the clock down on the edge of their penalty area, was slammed home by an unmarked Lawrence to trigger a mass exodus from a decent Leicester following.
Stoke City: Simonsen, Hoefkens, Zakuani, Fortune, Higginbotham, Lawrence, Eustace, Russell (Dickinson 46), Martin (Hendrie 73), Parkin (Sidibe 63), Fuller.
Subs not used: Hoult, Vass. Booked: Fuller.
Goals: Parkin 18, Fuller 29 pen, Sidibe 79, Lawrence 90
Leicester City: Henderson, Stearman, Kenton, Kisnorbo, Maybury (Fryatt 83), Newton, Johnson (Hughes 69), Jarrett, Tiatto (Porter 76), Hume, Hammond.
Subs not used: Logan, Johansson.
Booked: Newton, Hume, Kenton, Tiatto.
Goals: Kenton 16, Hammond 58.