The appearance of the two-time world light-welterweight champion Ricky Hatton here yesterday provided an apt backdrop to this thrilling Midlands derby. He was promoting a world title fight in the city next month and found time to indulge in a spot of playful shadow boxing with the Stoke City mascot, Pottermus, when he strolled on to the pitch at half-time.
But there was nothing playful about the way Stoke and Wolverhampton slugged it out toe-to-toe, only enmity in a bristling contest between two local rivals in which the home side left their opponents bruised and battered in a one-sided first half before Wolves bounced back off the ropes to deliver two counter-punches of which Hatton would have been proud.
The Stoke manager, Tony Pulis, preferred to reflect on the fact that his side are now unbeaten in four League games rather than the loss of two points – and the irony of both Wolves goals coming from defender Jody Craddock, a player Pulis had on loan two seasons ago and wanted to sign permanently.
Pulis said: "We lost the momentum in the second half, and their goal at the start [of it] gave them a massive lift. Craddock looked offside, but they got a leg-up off the officials and we stepped back. But we understand where we are, in the best League in the world, and to have the points we have so far means we are delighted."
Pulis responded to a miserable 4-0 Carling Cup exit at Portsmouth on Tuesday, for which he had made 10 changes from the side which had won 1-0 at Tottenham in the Premier League three days previously, by making another 10 changes.
With a more familiar line-up restored, Stoke swept into a seemingly unassailable position after Matthew Etherington's 17th-minute cross was turned into his own net by George Elokobi before Etherington added the second goal with a brilliant volley a minute before half-time.
The decision of Wolves boss Mick McCarthy to leave striker Sylvan Ebanks-Blake on the bench and gamble instead on the extra height of Chris Iwelumo was questionable, but his introduction of Nenad Milijas was a masterstroke.
It was from Milijas's free-kick, just over a minute into the second half, that Craddock turned in his first goal. The veteran defender, 34, profited again after 64 minutes from a precise Milijas corner.
McCarthy said: "I always thought we could turn it around and we scored from a free-kick and a corner, which is usually Stoke's domain. They took the first half by a good margin, but I think we dominated the second half by a greater margin. Jody is resilient, and it's not just about having youthful legs at the back. He's got experience and knows how to defend, although I didn't expect him to score two goals."
Wolves have now avoided defeat in their last three League fixtures, all draws, and are showing signs of coming to terms with the top flight. They now face Arsenal at home and Chelsea away either side of the international break, but McCarthy remains unfazed. "I fancy us," he said.
Referee: Chris Foy
Man of the match: Etherington
Match rating: 8/10Reuse content