Cook winner sends Stoke fortunes plummeting

Queens Park Rangers 1 Stoke City 0
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The Independent Online

Stoke City fans would have had a sinking feeling as soon as Lee Cook's ultimately decisive goal went in after 18 minutes. The Potters' previous 13 league games had seen no more than one goal, either for or against them. In football's version of Groundhog Day, of late they have been against them.

Stoke City fans would have had a sinking feeling as soon as Lee Cook's ultimately decisive goal went in after 18 minutes. The Potters' previous 13 league games had seen no more than one goal, either for or against them. In football's version of Groundhog Day, of late they have been against them.

Not that QPR have been in a purple patch themselves, as the west Londoners claimed their first win since November and ended a run of six defeats in seven games.

However, this game delivered exactly what it promised between two Championship sides on the slide and the absence of quality play was no surprise.

Yet despite Stoke's travails there had been evidence of an upturn in their fortune. Their narrow 2-1 defeat at Highbury against Premiership champions Arsenal in the FA Cup last Sunday showed a lot of spirited play.

Understandably, the Potters' manager Tony Pulis chose to keep faith with 10 of those players but, drained by their efforts against the Gunners, they offered little threat even if the hosts barelymerited the lead.

Pulis admitted as much, saying: "In the first half we were sluggish. We lacked quality in the final third. We need to bring players in with more quality." However, he did not sound optimistic of signing anyone new.

The goal's source was in midfield when Georges Santos, one of five changes made by Ian Holloway after QPR's FA Cup exit, found Jamie Cureton and the former Reading player's back-heel ran to Paul Furlong. His short pass, in turn, meant Cook barely had to break stride and from 15 yards he beat Steve Simonsen at his near post with a powerful left-footed shot.

Encouraged by that goal, Cook came close to doubling his side's lead three minutes after the interval with a shot that was fumbled by a nervy Simonsen.

Stoke's muted response amounted to Chris Greenacre going close twice in quick succession but was first denied by some good defending and then saw his finishing let him down.

With 63 minutes gone the striker was set to punish some lax work by QPR but Marcus Rose, on at half-time for Middlesbrough loan defender Andrew Davies, covered back with a perfectly-timed tackle. Ten minutes later a long ball from defence fooled everyone and Greenacre was quickest to react, only to send his lob over both Royce and the crossbar.

The visitors must have felt they had finally ended that low-scoring curse when John Eustace headed home but, the linesman's flag correctly ruled him offside with just five minutes remaining and Holloway's reaction summed up what it meant to him. "I could have kissed him," he exclaimed.

QPR (4-4-2): Royce; Edghill, Shittu, Davies (Rose, h-t), Padula; Ainsworth, Santos, Gallen, Cook (McLeod, 87); Cureton, Furlong. Substitutes not used: Day (gk), Bean, Miller

Stoke City (4-4-2): Simonsen; Buxton, Thomas, Taggart, Hall (Asaba, 70); Russell, Brammer, Jarrett (Eustace, 64), Clarke; Akinbiyi, Greenacre (Noel-Williams, 80). Substitutes not used: De Goey (gk), Eustace, Henry

Referee: R Styles (Hampshire)

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