Writer: Chris Baldwin
Date:Monday December 10 2007
9th Dec 2007
Stoke confirmed their status as promotion contenders with a fine display against the league leaders, Watford at the Brit in front of the Sky TV cameras. Not the prettiest of encounters, for sure, with both teams playing the same direct style of football but, notwithstanding the efforts of the referee to slow the game down by frequent whistles, played at a pace that never allowed the game to become a bore draw.
Stoke had to make do without the skills of Ryan Shawcross and John Eustace, who were both suspended for the match and Tony Pulis drafted in able replacements in Gabby Zakuani and Carl Dickinson, allowing Danny Pugh to move back up to central midfield.
Chances were few on both sides as both defences held firm for the most part. Stoke's best chance to break the deadlock in the first half appeared to come from a penalty after Liam Lawrence was brought down on the edge of the area. TV replays showed the defender pushing the former Sunderland player and then catching his leg as he fell, but may be Lawrence went down just a little too easily for the referee.
The Hornets' top scorer, Marlon King had chances, but wasted one by blasting it well wide and then saw a low cross run inches away from the goal line before going out for throw-in on the far side of the pitch.
The start of the second half saw Watford's reserve keeper, Richard Lee make the first of several good saves from Ricardo Fuller. Mamady Sidibe had a great chance but saw his pile driver of a shot narrowly miss the post. Danny Pugh then saw his shot nudged past the post by the keeper and as the game entered the final minutes, Fuller saw two shots saved by Lee - the first hit deflected off the keeper and drifted goal-bound before being hacked away by a Hornet's defender and the second with seconds left of normal time was caught by Lee's flailing leg and cleared.
A great performance by the Potters, only marred by an injury time injury to Stephen Wright who needed 14 stitches after attempting to head a Watford player.
Was I the only one who would have been happy with a point before the game but, by the end, felt as though it really was two points dropped?
But it was a great performance from the Potters who consolidated their position in the play-off zone with the all important Christmas fixtures rapidly approaching.
Watching the TV replay later, it was gratifying to see the sneering Neil Warnock try and do both Watford and Stoke's style of play down before having to admit that it was only those two teams that had beaten Palace since the former Blades' manager had arrived in South London in October.
With the good news today that Salif Diao has finally signed an 18 month contract, if we can keep this run going until January then we should look a decent prospect to the players we are hoping to attract to the Brit in the New Year.
Exciting times to come? We can but hope......
Stoke City: Simonsen, Wright (Buxton 90), Zakuani, Cort, Dickinson, Lawrence, Delap, Pugh, Cresswell, Fuller, Sidibe (Parkin 74)
Subs not used: Hoult, Pericard, Pulis
Watford: Lee, Doyley, Jackson, DeMerit, Stewart, Smith (Ellington 78), Williamson, O'Toole, McAnuff, King, Priskin (Francis 89)
Subs not used: Loach, Mariappa, Ainsworth
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Date:Monday December 10 2007
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