Pennant's skill and graft wins Pulis praise
Stoke City 3 Brighton 0
Monday 21 February 2011
A player who leaves a Porsche at a Spanish rail station for five months, and then says he had forgotten he ever owned it, might seem an unlikely candidate to embrace the work ethic which Tony Pulis insists is in Stoke City's DNA.
But then pigeonholing Jermaine Pennant – like marking him, as Brighton's Marcos Painter learnt to his cost – has seldom been a straightforward matter. Pennant was the 15-year-old winger on whom Arsène Wenger splashed £2m and who scored a hat-trick on his debut.
There was a Champions League final with Liverpool and two dozen England Under-21 caps. Yet he also crashed a Mercedes when drunk and disqualified, while his chance to join Stoke came after he repeatedly turned up late for training with Real Zaragoza. His performance in this comfortable win over the League One leaders had Pulis mentioning Pennant in the same breath as the most famous player ever to appear in his position. The Stoke manager, who would doubtless have had Stanley Matthews tracking back and tackling, purred about how the 28-year-old is combining an attacking threat with an appetite for hard graft.
"We're old-fashioned in that we play with two out-and-out wingers," said Pulis. "We want to do that here because, with all the Matthews tradition, the crowd like to see wingers running down the pitch, taking on full-backs and getting crosses in. It's a working-class place so they also like to see people working hard, and 'J' works as hard as anybody. It's almost in the DNA of the club."
Pennant is no wizard of dribble but he is quick and direct. Despite his playboy image, he was visibly disappointed to be substituted even in the penultimate minute.
Such an attitude remains a prerequisite at Stoke. "Even on Thursdays you have to hold them back because they're so committed," explained Pulis. "Some people pick up the baton and take it on. Some just can't do it. The nucleus of the team expect people to work, and 'J' has done that."
Brighton tried to pass their way through a bigger, faster, better Stoke team to the end. However, the tie was over before half-time, by which stage Peter Brezovan, surprisingly vulnerable for a 6ft 6in keeper, had been beaten by headers from John Carew (following a throw by Rory Delap), Jon Walters (after slick interplay between Pennant and Marc Wilson) and Ryan Shawcross (from a well-worked corner kick).
Stoke thus reached the quarter-finals for the second successive season, the first time they have done so since semi-final defeats by Arsenal in 1971 and '72. Pulis spoke of having "the luck of the draw", but then last year they drew Arsenal and Manchester City before losing at Chelsea. He continues to prioritise Premier League survival – "We worked so hard to get there after 24 years out of it" – but with a six-point lead over the bottom three he conceded the Cup was "a great distraction".
Scorers: Stoke City Carew 14, Walters 22, Shawcross 43. Subs: Stoke Fuller 5 (Etherington, 39), Jones 4 (Carew, 62), Whitehead (Pennant, 89). Unused Nash (gk), Higginbotham, Collins, Wilkinson. Brighton Caskey 5 (Battipiedi, 60), Sandaza 5 (Murray, 61), Baz 4 (Barnes, 74). Unused Ankergren (gk), Taricco, Dunk, Holroyd. Booked: Stoke Wilson, Pennant. Man of the match Pennant. Match rating 6/10. Possession Stoke 60% Brighton 40%. Attempts on target Stoke 8 Brighton 3.
Referee H Webb (S Yorkshire). Att 21,312.
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