After the week from hell which included two defeats to the Villa, the last thing that Albion fans wanted was to face our bogey side Stoke City.
Over the last few years, Baggies boss Tony Pulis had masterminded the Potter’s grip over Albion. The Baggies had lost their last five home games against Stoke and hadn’t beaten their Staffordshire rivals in the top flight for more than three decades.
Despite the odds being stacked against Albion, it was the hosts who started the better. Saido Berahino forced Stoke ‘keeper Begovic into an early save. From an almost identical position, Berahino again tried his luck from distance. Begovic this time able to smother.
Albion were moving the ball around with a rhythmic tempo and the excellent James Morrison and uber-cool Darren Fletcher controlling proceedings. In the 20th minute, the goal came that Albion’s start deserved. Gardner found space on the right and whipped into an inviting cross. Brown Ideye wrestled in front of hard-hitting Phil Bardsley to direct a diving header into the far corner.
The Baggies were buoyant and Berahino had his third effort of the half minutes later. The England international found himself free inside the area but dragged the ball wide when Brunt and Ideye were both ideally positioned.
A moment of controversy followed. Morrison tried a through ball through to Ideye. The ball came off a Stoke midfielder and Begovic fumbled as he tried to prevent a corner. Ideye stole the ball and rolled it into an empty net. However, the linesman flagged for offside and the goal was disallowed. Was Ideye interfering with play when Begovic fumbled? No. So why was the goal disallowed?
After the break
Stoke rallied for the first 15 minutes after the break – but only created one real chance. After Foster had been replaced following a tangle with Crouch, Myhill’s first action was to tip a looping Jon Walters header over the bar.
Berahino also headed wide for Albion as the youngster kept trying for a goal. Ideye then came within a fingertip of his second. Morrison fed the striker who cut back inside but saw his goalbound effort tipped around the post.
Albion kept moving the ball around cleverly with Morrison in particular standing out as the main candidate for man of the match. With only ten minutes to go, his stinging 18 yard effort called Begovic into action again.
There was another moment of controversy when referee Michael Oliver somehow waved away Craig Dawson’s appeals for a penalty. Dawson controlled the ball past defender Cameron before being sliced down. Somehow referee Oliver waved away calls for the most obvious penalty you’ll ever see.
The visitors pushed for a late equaliser but with Tony Pulis in the Albion dug out manoeuvring his troops into position the Baggies held on to their first win against Stoke in the top flight for some 30 years.
This was just what the doctor ordered after the week from hell. Albion were on top for the majority of the game and deserved more than one goal. Tony Pulis seems to have found the magic formula at The Hawthorns. The victory over Stoke was Albion’s sixth win at home in seven games. Six of those included clean sheets. It’s so nice to see Albion win at home after months of poor performances and results.
The victory moved Albion 11 points clear of the relegation zone with only a handful of games remaining. When you consider where Albion were around the Christmas period, the job Tony Pulis has done has been nothing short of remarkable. Importantly, he’s gone about getting victories the right way – at least at home. Albion moved the ball sharply against the Potters and Stoke simply couldn’t handle Albion’s energy – especially from James Morrison. The long-ball football Pulis was famed for at Stoke was nowhere to be seen on Saturday.
Morrison may have been the stand out performer, but he was joined by Darren Fletcher and Stephane Sessegnon in having eye catching games. Fletcher showed exactly what Albion missed in the FA Cup tie against Villa and Sess showed why he’s such a tricky customers when on his game – it’s just a shame he’s so inconsistent.
Albion on travel to out-of-sorts Manchester City on Saturday. If Pulis can be a bit more positive on the road there’s no reason – on this performance – why we can’t be challenging for victories away from home.
COME ON YOU BAGGIES.
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