After a comfortable 2-0 victory against Fulham on Saturday, Stoke entered Thursday night’s European excursions against Maccabi Tel-Aviv in good form. Not so good, however, that manager Tony Pulis would allow his side to take their foot off the pedal. Pulis used his pre-match programme notes to signify the genuine threat the visitors posed to the Potters.
Seven changes were made from the team that beat Fulham, with the likes of Salif Diao, Ryan Shotton and Thomas Sorenson given a run out on a cold, blustery night at the Britannia.
The Israeli’s showed little signs of the promise that Pulis alluded to before the game, as Stoke swept them aside courtesy of three first-half goals. The ease in which the Potters earned their victory bodes well for the return leg in early November, as a win there could seal progression into the last 32.
After Cameron Jerome crashed a header onto the crossbar on 12 minutes, Kenwyne Jones was there for the ensuing corner to head home emphatically. A fine return to first team action from the big Trinidadian. Whether it was the ineptitude of the opposition, or Jones’ spirited performance, the striker looked the part on Thursday. Consistency is what is needed from Jones.
Another man that relished his return to the first team was Jerome, who put Stoke two-up in the 24th minute. After a weak attempt to play offside by Tel-Aviv, Jerome headed in from an in-swinging Matthew Etherington free-kick. The diminutive Tel-Aviv keeper was helpless; and Stoke were two goals to the good.
It was no surprise then when Ryan Shotton made it three. Tel Aviv goalkeeper Haimov raced out of his box, pursuing the ball after a poor clearance. Jerome beat him to it, and fed Shotton, who obliged to add the final touches, firing a low shot past the keeper. 3-0.
Stoke’s night was soured a little when Jerome was given a second yellow card by the referee, after catching Israeli defender Ziv in the face with an elbow. Harsh, but altogether the correct move from the official.
Ziv’s every touch was then heckled by the Stoke support; the Israeli defender drawing comparisons to that of a pantomime villain. The furore surrounding the defender reached a climax when Ziv himself was resigned to take an early bath by the referee. Frustrated at a decision against him, the Israeli flung his loose boot off, catching the linesman in his side. An entirely inappropriate manoeuvre, and Ziv’s dismissal prompted the loudest cheer of the night.
The game fizzed out by this time, with both sides prudence effectively ending the match as a contest. It finished 3-0, and Stoke march on. Next up is Arsenal at the Emirates.
It only gets harder from here.