Potters punish Baggies to ease pressure on boss Mark Hughes
The pressure on Stoke manager Mark Hughes eased a little following a 3-1 home victory against West Brom.
Five defeats in the previous six Premier League matches had dragged Stoke towards the relegation battle, but Hughes said in the build-up to the game he did not feel defeat here would spell the end of his four and a half years in charge.
Chairman Peter Coates, however, described Saturday’s fixture against the second-from-bottom club as “one we need to win.”
It looked like Stoke would comfortably oblige after first-half goals from Joe Allen and Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting put them firmly in control but West Brom rallied at the start of the second half and Salomon Rondon halved their deficit.
However, the Baggies were unable to get anything from the game and Alan Pardew is still looking for his first victory since taking over as manager five matches ago. More worryingly, his group of players are without a Premier League win for 17 matches.
Despite their recent travails, Stoke emerged from the tunnel at the beginning of the game to a rousing reception from their supporters.
Hughes waved as he made his way down the touchline towards the dugouts and his gesture was returned by the home fans.
However, in the stand opposite there was a clearly visible ‘Hughes Out’ banner.
But the hosts started the game well enough and Allen’s 19th-minute goal helped relieve the potential for any early tension and enabled Stoke – and most probably Hughes – to relax a little.
Choupo-Moting saw his effort blocked and the quickest to react was 36-year-old Peter Crouch, whose shot across the face of goal from the right-hand side was turned in by Allen from close range.
The goal lifted both the team and the home supporters, who were now making the kind of noise which helped put the bet365 Stadium on the map.
They were nearly silenced as half-time approached when Rondon’s curling shot looked to be heading for the bottom corner but Jack Butland got down to his left and stuck out a hand to keep the ball out.
It was a vital save as, in the final minute of the first half, Allen’s pass sent Choupo-Moting through on goal. He rounded Ben Foster and then put the ball in the net despite there being two defenders on the line.
The Baggies responded at the restart, though, and were level after 51 minutes. Chris Brunt curled a simple pass over the top of the home defenders and Rondon poked the ball home after finding himself through on goal.
For the first time you could sense nervousness in the stands. West Brom had their tails up and Jake Livermore, Jonny Evans and Jay Rodriguez all threatened the Stoke goal, without really troubling Butland, as the pressure grew.
Ryan Shawcross provided some relief at the other end as Foster had to produce a fine save to help his header over the crossbar.
A mix-up between 18-year-old Tom Edwards, making his full home debut, and Butland almost resulted in an own goal in stoppage time as nerves began to jangle.
From the resulting corner, Butland punched the ball against Rondon’s head and it needed a last-ditch clearance for Stoke to survive.
However, Hughes’ team sealed the win with a goal on the break led by Choupo-Moting who unselfishly teed up Ramadan Sobhi for a tap-in to send the majority inside the ground berserk.