Match Review: Stoke 2-0 Sunderland
I can’t believe it, we won a game of Premier League football.
Stoke City managed to comfortably win and gain their first three points of the season on Saturday afternoon and they cruised to a 2-0 victory against a poor Sunderland side at the bet365 Stadium. It was Joe Allen’s brace that sealed the deal, a header from an Arnautovic cross after 8 minutes and a smashing left foot hit just before half time. It was far from a perfect performance, but there was a huge improvement once again and Stoke made Sunderland look very ordinary indeed.
Stoke were granted with the news that Allen would be a doubt going into this game, however the current Mr Stoke City was passed fit to start in a largely unchanged lineup. The only change came in the form of Phil Bardsley, replacing Glen Johnson due to picking up an injury just before his England call-up which will keep him out for around a month.
Jack Butland’s return has been set back to November, so Lee Grant looks to be continuing in goal after his blinding performance at Old Trafford. Fans were concerned that the selected XI would be too defensive for a home game against Sunderland, with Bojan on the bench and neither Giannelli Imbula or Ramadan Sobhi able to squeeze into the 18 man squad.
The opening few minutes were slow, neither team producing anything of note until eight minutes in. Xherdan Shaqiri sent in a ball towards Arnautovic, who let the ball run across his body and crossed in from the left right in front of the goalmouth, Joe Allen acted as the required poacher to stab the ball home with his head and sent the stadium into rather unexpected pandemonium. It was only the second time this season that Stoke had been leading in a match in the league and it was a fourth goal for the Welsh wizard in as many games for club and country.
Sunderland had very little to reply with: the only chance they had followed a mistake in the Stoke midfield and Jermain Defoe had a powerful shot from the right of the Stoke box, but Ryan Shawcross was there to launch himself in the way of the drive and preserve his side’s lead. Aside from this chance, it was all Stoke. Wilfried Bony, without a goal this season so far, came close a couple of times. Geoff Cameron couldn’t quite get the ball into the Ivorian’s feet in a good area and an Arnautovic cross also came agonisingly close to Bony making the vital contact.
Half time drew close and the game was almost wrapped up courtesy of Cameron; he picked up the ball in a glorious place in the area and fired towards goal however Sunderland ‘keeper Jordan Pickford denied him with an astounding save. The following corner came in from Shaqiri and Shawcross’ following header was cleared, but Joe Allen was there once again to intercept and smack home from the edge of the area with Pickford helpless. That made it five in four for Allen and two before half time for his club. The relief exploded throughout the stadium with the referee seconds away from blowing his whistle to signal for the break. Had been months since Stoke had been winning after 45 minutes of league football and it felt glorious.
The second half started as the first ended. Bony had his best chance of the game, perhaps in a Stoke shirt full stop: he curled in an effort towards the bottom corner from 15 yards out but Pickford clawed away the shot unbelievably to deny him. Allen was lurking in the box for the follow up and very nearly sealed his hat trick, however his rebounded effort was deflected away to safety by a Sunderland body. Minutes later, Bony was put through clean on goal thanks to a wonderful ball from Shaqiri, although the shot that came from it was well wide of the target and he would have been very disappointed not to have at least got his effort on target, albeit from a tough angle.
Phil Bardsley, the deputy for the injured Glen Johnson, picked up a knock of his own and was forced off the field. Geoff Cameron filled the gap and Charlie Adam came on to make up the numbers. The Scot’s first involvement led to the ball being in the back of the Sunderland net: he drilled a low shot from 12 yards out which bounded off an unaware Arnautovic, looping the ball over Pickford and into the goal, unfortunately the Austrian was offside. It was lucky that Marko didn’t protest the decision too furiously, having already being booked for dissent since going ballistic at the linesman earlier in the game. Shortly afterwards, Shaqiri and Arnautovic played the ball between themselves, the former feeding the latter into a fantastic amount of space on the left. Arnautovic crossed in a delicious towards Bony across the six-yards box, however the latter had already pulled back away, wires were crossed and the ball rolled harmlessly away. Charlie Adam had the last chance of the match, he smacked the crossbar with a shot from distance. It wouldn’t be a Charlie Adam performance without an effort like that, would it?
So, Stoke keep their first clean sheet since Butland’s injury and looked convincing from start to finish. Today’s opponents were hardly testing, but credit must be given to the Potters’ defensive contingent who reduced Sunderland to a handful of half chances. On another day, Bony would have had a couple of goals and we’d be talking about a rout. Despite this, it’s another step in the right direction and it looks as though Stoke have now found a way of breaking down defensive opponents and deny resulting counter-attacks. Mark Hughes and his team have ventured their way into a seemingly less testing run of fixtures than previous encounters and, as long as performances continue to improve, they’re well on the way to getting back to where they should be and the manager’s position being secure once more.
The corner is turned. The points are coming. We’re back.
Lee Grant: 6 – not a lot to do, fair play.
Phil Bardsley: 6 – wasn’t tested and linked up well with Shaqiri
Ryan Shawcross: 7 – dealt with all problems brilliantly. Captain’s performance
Bruno Martins Indi: 7 – no nonsense once again. Handled Defoe easily
Erik Pieters: 6 – again not tested, but solid when required
Glenn Whelan: 6 – room for improvement but helped break up the play
Geoff Cameron: 8 – athletic, clever, brave. A joy to watch
Xherdan Shaqiri: 7 – pulled the strings, excellent vision
Joe Allen : 10 – perfect offensively and defensively. Start the party
Marko Arnautovic: 8 – set up the first goal and was once again magnificent
Wilfried Bony: 6 – mixed bag. Good hold up play, needs a goal
Charlie Adam (25 mins): 6 – not technically wonderful, but boy has he got balls
Marc Muniesa (15 mins): 6 – decent cameo hung out to dry at right back
Jon Walters (15 mins) 6 – caused problems but no cutting edge
Written by Ben Rowley
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