BRIAN LITTLE seems much more relaxed nestling in Stoke's impressive new Britannia Stadium, away from the rarefied atmosphere of the Premiership. But then, his new charges have got off to a start of six straight wins in the Nationwide Second Division and are already putting space between any challengers who may emerge along the way.
Bournemouth are in that category and were keen enough to prove that they should still be among the contenders by next May. They just failed to live with a rejuvenated Stoke in the second half and crumbled to a pair of messy goals.
Had their striker, Mark Stein, shown the deadly touch he once exhibited as a Stoke hero, it might have been a very different story. In the first minute, with the sound of a rousing reception from his former Stoke admirers still ringing in his ears, he managed to miss a sitter when Mohammed Berthe's cross found him unmarked at the far post. Midway through the second half he did it again, after Neil Young had done the hard work with his run and cross.
Those misses allowed Stoke to record their third successive clean sheet and the 65th minute arrival of the diminutive Dean Crowe, to become Stoke's third all-out attacker, did the rest. Within five minutes Peter Thorne had scrambled Stoke's first and the substitute made sure of the points with another untidy goal four minutes later.
An inspired substitution? Another for the "Super Sub" scrapbook? No, it was simple, the Stoke manager explained after the game. "Both sides had defended well and it didn't look as if they were going to score so I decided to throw on another forward. Substitutions will not all be that easy and simple as we go through the season."
The City faithful are the first to admit that they have had more than their fair share of luck - especially at Colchester last week - in this blistering start to the season. But such a mean defence often proves to be the ace in the hole when it comes to climbing out of the lower divisions. Even without their Icelandic defender, Larus Sigurdsson, back home in Reykjavik giving France a fright, Stoke managed to keep Bournemouth - those two gifts to Stein apart - at arm's length. Carl Muggleton's clean and confident handling is a big help to the men in front of him, in direct contrast to Mark Ovendale's occasional Tommy Cooperish antics in the Bournemouth goal.
The record books will show this has been Stoke's best start to a season since the days of Arnold Bennett and before even Stan Matthews was thought of - the 1905-06 season, to be precise.
Goals: Thorne (70) 1-0; Crowe (75) 2-0.
Stoke City (4-4-2): Muggleton; Short, Small (Tweed, 71) Whittle, Robinson; Woods, Keen, Wallace (Crowe, 65), Thorne; Lightbourne, Oldfield (Heath, 65).
AFC Bournemouth (4-4-2): Ovendale; Young, Vincent, Howe, Berthe (Town 15; Tindall 75); Bailey, (Dean, 78), Cox, Robinson, Stein; Fletcher, Hughes.
Referee: P Richards (Preston)
Man of the match: Thorne.Reuse content