Stoke City 3 West Bromwich 1: Fuller shows Stoke's title credentials

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The Independent Online

West Bromwich Albion anticipate games against Stoke City as a turkey crosses off the days to Christmas. Now they may view Ricardo Fuller with much the same dread.

A world away from his roots, the Jamaican's second English hat-trick extended Stoke's extraordinary dominance of this fixture and added even more fizz to the log-jam at the Championship summit.

Fuller's ninth, 10th and 11th goals of the season helped dislodge Albion as leaders and offered food for thought following Gary Megson's decision to release him despite three goals in two reserve games on trial at The Hawthorns in 2001.

Fuller declined to rub it in afterwards, saying only: "I'm glad I wasn't a quitter, otherwise I wouldn't be here today. My game is judged on scoring goals, and being happy and settled are two of the most important things in a footballer's life."

Ten days ago, the 28-year-old agreed a contract extension to 2011 a move he has followed with five goals in two games, having also scored in a 3-1 triumph at Albion last season.

Twenty-three seasons after last playing in the top flight, fourth-placed Stoke have to be taken seriously as promotion candidates after winning five of their last six matches and scoring 14 times in the process.

Though they are frequently said to be the beast to Albion's beauty, this was a victory for pragmatism and outstanding chance-taking rather than a case of winning ugly.

Not that they will find all opponents this accommodating. There was a hint of offside and handball about Fuller's first when Mamady Sidibe's flick set him up in only the fifth minute, then an equally accomplished finish punished woeful defending at Liam Lawrence's free-kick. The resistance to the assured run and side-foot that brought the third was just as tepid.

Albion made inroads late on and might well have managed more than Roman Bednar's sixth goal in six games but have now made 16 successive winless trips to the Britannia Stadium or Victoria Ground since 1982 and beaten Stoke only once in 23 League meetings. How they will this time want to sidestep the play-offs, not least to avoid facing their bogey side.

"Christmas is a massive time and we're looking forward to the games," said Albion's goalkeeper Dean Kiely. "Watford, Charlton and ourselves could all probably make a case for being 10 points clear but this division is what it is."

Goals: Fuller (5) 1-0; Fuller (37) 2-0; Fuller (66) 3-0; Bednar (72) 3-1.

Stoke City (4-4-2): Simonsen; Wilkinson, Cort, Shawcross, Pugh; Lawrence, Eustace, Delap, Cresswell; Fuller (Parkin, 90), Sidibe (Dickinson, 83). Substitutes not used: Hoult (gk), Zakuani, Pulis.

West Bromwich Albion (4-4-1-1): Kiely; Hoefkens, Cesar (Albrechtsen, 69), Pele, Robinson; Gera, Koren, Greening, Brunt (Miller, h-t); Teixeira (Phillips, h-t); Bednar. Substitutes not used: Steele (gk), Morrison.

Booked: West Bromwich Brunt, Cesar.

Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire)

Man of the match: Fuller.

Attendance: 18,420.

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