After a two-week absence from Premier League duty; Tony Pulis’ side were replenished and ready for the challenge of Martin Jol’s Fulham.
Fulham arrived on the back of a seven-match unbeaten run, and Pulis would have warned his team to overlook Jol’s team at their mercy. Fresh from a largely in-active international break, the Potters entered yesterday’s game in ebullient fashion, whilst being mindful of complacency. When a team boasts two draws and a win from fixtures against Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool, confidence levels would be through the roof.
So, with all the drama that precedes international fixtures out of the way, the Premier League re-opened for business once again.
The first half produced little of note, with the best chance of the period falling to Stoke’s Jermaine Pennant. Pennant played a one-two with striker Peter Crouch and skipped past Fulham defender Brede Hangeland, before narrowly sending his shot past the post. Crouch himself had an opportunity before the break, but hopelessly miskicked his volleyed effort from a Pennant delivery.
Fulham, on the back of a promising 6-0 rout of QPR, fared little better in front of goal in the first half. John Arne Riise (more on him later) smashed a shot over the bar from long-range and Bobby Zamora saw his fine directed header fly past the post.
Stoke began to prosper better after the break and upped the tempo after a lethargic first half. Both sides looked to their respective long throw aficionados – Stoke’s Delap and Fulham’s Riise – for inspiration as the throws flew in.
Riise crashed a spectacular 25-yard free kick against the underside of the bar, shocking everyone, myself included, at the Britannia Stadium. Never before have I seen a free-kick struck with such venom. The strike was deserved of a goal. Welcome back, John.
Marc Wilson’s header was blocked on the line by the continually heckled Danny Murphy, a player whose previous condemnations of the Potters’ tough style weren’t forgotten by the Stoke support. Rory Delap struck the post with a curled strike after some good footwork on the edge of the box.
But Matthew Etherington – who played despite requiring sugar injections in his back – was the catalyst for the opening Stoke goal.
Etherington’s shot, from a corner, was heading wide when Jonathan Walters was the first to react, slotting home in the 80th minute from close range. Ecstasy for the Potters.
Six minutes later Etherington ensured the points for the hosts, delivering a fine free-kick to find Delap, who powerfully converted his header to seal the win. He’s not just a long throw, you know.
“Murphy, what’s the score” rang out inside the Britannia. Next up is Israel’s Maccabi Tel-Aviv, the next stop on the Potters’ European adventure.