Having spent much of the campaign fending off criticism from opposition managers, who have a habit of staring down at the desk in the press room at the Britannia Stadium and shaking their heads after their teams have been asked to defend set pieces and long balls, the Stoke midfielder Liam Lawrence thinks that teams in the Championship have a new-found respect for the division's leaders.
Certainly a defender told, "You mark the big lad," will be sent into a state of confusion against Stoke, but Lawrence's impressive strike from 25 yards, which earned a fifth straight victory for Tony Pulis's team, shows there is more to this side than Rory Delap's ability to take really long throws.
It will be a tag they will struggle to shift but Lawrence, 26, feels the tide of opinion is turning. "We were surprising people up until about six or seven games ago," he said. "People were moaning about how we play and they've taken a step back and decided we're not that bad.
"I think we've turned a few people's minds around. People were saying we're only a big side who go route one and long ball but, as you can see, we score from all over. Being compared to Wimbledon of old has put us in that category, but I don't think anyone here will be moaning if we go up doing that."
Pulis warned, however, "If we treat the last 12 games any differently than we have the first 34, we will end up with our pants pulled down and have our backsides slapped. The players are working exceptionally hard and we have got to keep that up until the last ball is kicked."
Ipswich have promotion ambitions of their own and Alan Lee should have opened the scoring for the visitors, but he shot wide from close range after neat work from Jon Walters in the early stages. The Suffolk side were resolute but Lawrence seized on Dan Harding's weak clearance to drive into the corner of the net for his 13th goal of the season, just before half-time.
The Ipswich manager, Jim Magilton, was sent to the stands following a disagreement with the referee, Michael Jones, over the multi-ball system, which leaves the number of balls around the pitch at the home team's discretion.
Stoke were clinging on, but Ipswich had only a fierce drive from Velice Sumulikoski, which was tipped away by Steve Simonsen, to show for their efforts. Pulis admits he will look into the way multiple balls are administered at the Britannia Stadium. "We've got little kids doing it and some of them do sit on the ball, rather than throw it back," he explained.
However, the Ipswich midfielder Tommy Miller feels the system should be abolished. "The system sometimes works for the home teams but not the away teams," he said. "I think it should be standard or not done at all."
Goal: Lawrence (42) 1-0.
Stoke City (4-4-2): Simonsen; Griffin, Shawcross, Cort, Dickinson; Lawrence, Delap, Whelan, Cresswell; Sidibe (Diao, 82), Fuller. Substitutes not used: Wilkinson, Parkin, Gallagher, Fulop (gk).
Ipswich Town (4-4-2): Bywater; Bruce, Naylor, De Vos, Harding; Norris (Garvan, 76), Sumulikoski, Miller, Quinn (Haynes, 46); Walters, Lee (Counago, 72). Substitutes not used: Colgan (gk), Wright.
Referee: M Jones (Cheshire).
Booked: Stoke City Lawrence, Delap.
Man of the match: Lawrence.
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