No longer does a day go by without Manchester City making big news. This particular story is one of pure embarrassment. Losing to a side without a win in 11 matches was miserable enough; to have a man advantage for all but the opening 38 minutes underlined the wastefulness and paucity of their performance.
Stoke City like nothing better than to bloody the noses of such big fry, so a team who have had £75 million lavished on them – with another £45m in the offing if some stories are to be believed – were right up their street.
So well did Stoke regroup following Rory Delap's sending-off, and so clueless were their opponents in breaking them down, that Thomas Sorensen had only two token saves to make. Amid the mesmerising splash of Arab cash, it must have been galling for the visitors that the deciding goal deep in first-half stoppage time was scored by one modestJanuary signing and fashioned by another. Matthew Etherington – cost, £2m – found space on the left to cross superbly and the £2.5m James Beattie,on his home debut, judged the flight much better than the £12m Wayne Bridge to head down expertly inside Joe Hart's near post.
Just what Manchester City's chairman, Khaldoon Khalifa Al-Mubarak, making a rare appearance at an away game, made of events is anyone's guess. But his manager, Mark Hughes,who gave a cheerful pre-match assessment of his talks with the club's top brass in London on Friday, had a face like thunder and presumably chose his words to the media afterwards more carefully than those for his players' ears in the dressing room.
"It was difficult to break them down," Hughes said. "The idea was to get width, but to do that you need tempo and drive. We had seven or eight attack-minded players on in the second half and still didn't create enough chances. There's a reluctance to just knock the ball in because we don't have that physical presence."
Hughes denied making a bid for the Arsenal defender Kolo Touré but knows Manchester City are a pale shadow on their travels of the side they have become at Eastlands. They haven't won away in the League since August and the one high-quality move they produced all match, featuring Shaun Wright-Phillips, Stephen Ireland and Craig Bellamy, petered out with the tamest of shots by Robinho. That the Brazilian was penalisedfor a foul throw just after half-time further tickled the fancy of Stoke's supporters, who mocked spectacularly wild finishes both by him and the unfailingly industrious Bellamy.
Bellamy went closer than anyone with a 25-yarder that cleared the bar by inches, while Micah Richards seemed harshly treated when denied a penalty for Andy Griffin's tackle on him three minutes from time. But Stoke were rarely discomfited and defendedbrilliantly around the rock that was Ryan Shawcross, who had twice threatened the visitors' goal in the first half.
Stoke are no newcomers to red cards but at least the third one they have incurred since Christmas involved an altercation with an opponent. On the day their leading scorer, Ricardo Fuller, made his first start since being dismissed for hitting his skipper at Upton Park, another loss of composure depleted them. The red mist this time descended on Delap, who chased Wright-Phillips after the England international had produced a poor unpunished challenge on Etherington, hacked at him from behind and then took a swing at the ball as it restedagainst the Manchester City man.
Pablo Zabaleta angrily pulled Delap away, and it was probably thanks to the ensuing mêlée that the referee, Martin Atkinson, and his assistant failed to spot Wright-Phillips taking a Beckhamesque kick at his protagonist as he lay on the ground. Wright-Phillips was not disciplined with so much as a yellow card, but Stoke's supporters were not as tolerant towards him. "I can't condone what Rory did – it was wrong," said Stoke's manager, Tony Pulis, "but I was desperately disappointed with the decision after the tackle on Etherington."
It was Pulis's 50th League win with Stoke and lifted them out of the bottom three. "It was a smashing result," he said. "We showed a lot of resilience, especially in the second half."
Referee: Martin Akinson
Man of the match: Shawcross
Match rating: 6/10Reuse content