Stoke City 3, Preston North End 1: Shawcross and Cort duel gives Stoke unorthodox edge

Stoke's manager, Tony Pulis, has not yet found a striker to beef up the club's promotion challenge but may not have to if his defenders continue to plunder goals. After Leon Cort had headed his fifth and sixth of the season as Stoke moved to within a point of the top two, his fellow centre-back Ryan Shawcross revealed there was money riding on who would be first to double figures.

Shawcross has a slender lead with seven, but is worried Cort's effectiveness at set pieces may give him the edge. The former Crystal Palace player guided in one of Rory Delap's trademark long throws to give Stoke first blood on Saturday before clinching the points by heading home a second-half corner. "Leon is so strong and defenders are a bit scared of him when he goes into their box," Shawcross said. "I've got money on being first to 10 goals, but he is catching me."

The win capped a significant week for the two defenders, each of whom turned a loan move into a permanent deal. Cort completed his club record £1.2m move from Crystal Palace while 20-year-old Shawcross could not conceal his excitement at tying up a £1m move, even though he had turned down a new contract at Manchester United to stay. "When I came here in August it was just a loan and I hoped to go back to United," he said. "But after about a month I decided this was where I wanted to be."

Cort, extraordinarily for a centre-half, has not picked up a yellow card since April 2004, a run of 162 games. "I have given him some stick about that," said Shawcross, himself already cautioned seven times in his five-month Stoke career. "But he is a good player and, unlike me, a clean tackler."

Preston did not play like a side in the bottom three but were undone both by their vulnerability at set pieces and a costly mistake by their goalkeeper, Andy Lonergan, who dropped a cross to allow Richard Cresswell to tap in Stoke's second, rendering the former Norwich striker Chris Brown's first goal for Preston a mere consolation.

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