Crouch stoops to conquer as Stoke make it four in a row
Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 Stoke City 2: Pulis decision to rest entire first XI in Europe vindicated after battling win over Wolves
Sunday 18 December 2011
His methods may not meet with universal approval but in his continuous quest to give his Stoke side an edge Tony Pulis cannot fail to be admired, however grudgingly. On an a bitter afternoon when Ryan Shotton's towelling vest was as useful for insulation as drying the ball, it was the decision to go off into Europe leaving his entire first team at home that made the difference.
Not that it can have been a difficult one to make. Stoke's last two ventures on to foreign soil in the Europa League had preceded thumpings at home by 4-0 and 5-0 and given that their passage into the last 32 was already assured, Pulis reasoned that taking any of yesterday's likely starters for a Wednesday game in Istanbul was merely a waste of their energy. So it was that Stoke were rewarded – for the first time in their history – with a fourth Premier League win in a row.
They clinched it with Peter Crouch's 99th career League goal and, moreover, did so having been a goal behind, after conceding a penalty on 17 minutes, converted by Stephen Hunt when Jonathan Woodgate brought down Matt Jarvis. It was a contentious moment, not because there was any doubt over it being a foul but because Woodgate, who had already been booked, was not given a second yellow card.
Still behind at half-time, Stoke responded splendidly in the second half, enjoying another piece of good fortune with their equaliser when Robert Huth's 35-yard shot was deflected wide of Wolves goalkeeperWayne Hennessey but deserving none the less of their first top-flight triumph at Molineux since 1967.
Crouch, at the far post, looked at his most ungainly, contorting his 6ft 7ins frame to re-route Matthew Etherington's cross somehow into the net, but it was a fine goal in that it came on the end of an eight-pass move, which some would say was not at all Stoke-like, but whichactually reflected the quality of their football.
Would the outcome have been different, though, had Woodgate been sent off? It was an argument that prompted Mick McCarthy, the Wolves manager, to question referee AnthonyTaylor after the final whistle. He did get an explanation, he said, but felt it was not his place to pass it on.
"If he trips Jarvis outside the box and gets booked, why wasn't he booked again?," McCarthy said. "Anywhere else on the field he would have been. I did ask the ref about it but it should be him explaining his decisions, not me. It's a shame because I could not fault our performance today. In the first half in particular I thought we were excellent."
As it was, Woodgate did not stay on the field for much longer, in any event. Playing at right-back, which has been his role lately but is not one that is natural to him, he had already been exposed by Jarvis and Pulis plainly saw the writing on the wall, replacing him almost immediately after the penalty, switching Shotton to right-back and sending on Jermaine Pennant to play on the wing.
It turned out to be a masterstroke, albeit an accidental one. Pennant, whose recent omission had prompted speculation of a falling-out with the manager, proceeded to give Wolves as much of a headache as Jarvis had been threatening to inflict on Stoke. He and Etherington, aided by the industry of Jonathan Walters and the constant threat posed by Crouch, turned the contest in Stoke's favour.
Walters had missed one excellent chance before the equaliser came, the ball flying wide off his knee after an Etherington cross reached him unmarked at the far post. Then Roger Johnson brought Walters down – winning a questionable free kick, in McCarthy's judgement – and, after Glenn Whelan had teed him up with a short free-kick, Huth let fly from 35 yards, the ball striking Kevin Doyle on the end of the Wolves wall, giving Hennessey no chance.
"We had some good fortune with that and with Woodgate not being sent off," Pulis admitted. "He had played really well in that position against Tottenham when he had Aaron Lennon up against him but the first challenge that he was booked for was a poor one and I did think he would be sent off.
"But I thought we were worth the win after the way we played in the second half and we've made a bit of history again."
Wolves (4-4-2): Hennessey; Zubar, Johnson, Berra, Ward; Hunt (Hammill, 80), Henry, Milijas (Guedioura, 75), Jarvis; Doyle (Ebanks-Blake, 75), Fletcher.
Stoke (4-4-2): Sorensen; Woodgate (Pennant, 19), Shawcross, Huth, Wilson; Shotton, Whelan (Palacios, 83), Whitehead, Etherington (Fuller, 83); Walters, Crouch.
Referee Anthony Taylor.
Man of the match Etherington (Stoke).
Match rating 7/10.
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