Stoke stormed back from a two-goal deficit against bottom-of-the-table Scunthorpe to displace Watford at the top of the Championship. Liam Lawrence emerged as their driving force with a double strike as the visitors were felled by three goals in 13 minutes early in the second half. Watford will reclaim pole position if they win at Charlton today, but even if Stoke's occupation is brief it is a measure of the progress they have made in a run that has seen them beaten only once in 17 league matches.
Yet the night had begun badly for Tony Pulis's team as Martin Paterson, who quit Stoke last summer over lack of opportunities, showed how much he has thrived since joining Scunthorpe by scoring his 12th goal of the season. The 20-year-old, fresh from winning a first senior Northern Ireland cap, side-footed home from Matthew Sparrow's pass after six minutes.
And there was worse for Stoke when, after 23 minutes, their defending of a corner by Ian Morris was found wanting as Jack Hobbs, the right back on loan from Liverpool, was left unchallenged to head his first senior goal. At that point, the assertion by the Scunthorpe manager, Nigel Adkins, that his side would avoid relegation looked well founded as Stoke struggled to generate a response. Then came the comeback, even if Scunthorpe looked to have a justifiable gripe over the legitimacy of the second goal.
Lawrence seized a lifeline after 53 minutes, slotting the ball past Murphy from a tight angle after a trademark long throw by Rory Delap. The moment of contention for the visitors came with Richard Cresswell's 62nd-minute equaliser, which had Scunthorpe defenders appealing that the ball had gone out of play before Ricardo Fuller hooked it back for the Stoke substitute to score. There was no argument when Lawrence struck again to put Stoke in front after 66 minutes, Fuller cutting through the Scunthorpe defence to set up his team-mate to score his 11th goal of the season.
"All I said to them at half-time was that it was time for them to show their true colours," Pulis said. "I knew that if we got the next goal we could turn it round."
Stoke City (4-4-2): Simonsen; Griffin, Cort, Shawcross, Pugh; Lawrence, Diao (Cresswell, 54), Whelan, Delap; Fuller (Zakuani, 90), Sidibe. Substitutes not used: Hoult (gk), Parkin, Gallagher.
Scunthorpe United (4-4-2): Murphy; Hobbs, Crosby, Butler, Williams; Sparrow (May, 90), Goodwin, Cork, Morris (Forte, 83); Paterson, Horsfield (Hayes, 51). Substitutes not used: Lillis (gk), Forte, Iriekpen.
Referee: G Laws (Tyne and Wear).