Revenge for Tony Pulis, redemption for Jason Puncheon, and a potentially priceless three points for Crystal Palace. And the same old story of disappointment on the road for Stoke City.
Pulis took charge of over 450 matches at Stoke, only to be shown the door at the end of last season. In his programme notes, he welcomed the Potters’ playing staff and fans – who gave him an enthusiastic welcome – but not the directors, who were also absent from his post-match comments.
“Coming out and seeing the Stoke supporters, it was surreal for me,” Pulis said. “We had a wonderful ten years together, them and myself. I enjoyed it immensely, wonderful people there, wonderful times. But we [Palace] needed to win home games and to get a clean sheet as well was good. This was not the defining moment. That is in the future so we must keep our feet on the ground and hope that we can bring some players in. I leave that to the chairman.”
Puncheon, widely mocked eight days ago for his wayward penalty kick against Tottenham Hotspur, converted a far more difficult chance to score the only goal of the match. Palace’s win, only their second in seven Premier League games, not only lifted them off the foot of the table but also out of the bottom three to the dizzy heights of 16th place.
Not that beating Stoke, who have won only once away from The Potteries this season, proves much, but Pulis has always said that if Palace are to survive it will be on the strength of their results at Selhurst Park. And with other poor travellers Hull City and West Bromwich Albion their next visitors, they are well-placed to deliver on his claim.
Yesterday’s first half hovered between dull and dismal. Neither side played to the long-ball stereotype of a Pulis team, but although they tried to keep the ball on the ground, the intention to play decent football was too often undermined by a lack of touch or imagination. Charlie Adam was the exception in the Stoke team, while Palace’s Yannick Bolasie obviously wanted to run at defenders, but too often ran into them. His best moment was a cross that Joel Ward glanced wide after six minutes and it went downhill from there.
Could the second half be as poor? Fortunately not, and for Palace it got much better after only six minutes. Adrian Mariappa’s exchange of passes with Bolasie and charge down the right seemed to have come to nothing when he lost the ball to Oussama Assaidi near the byline, but when the Moroccan attempted to pass to Marc Wilson, Puncheon intercepted. The on-loan Southampton winger held off Wilson, manoeuvred himself a foot of space and hit a left-foot shot through the legs of Ryan Shawcross, past Jack Butland and inside the far post. “He missed a penalty by a great distance but it’s like riding a bike,” Pulis said. “If you fall off you get back on and start pedalling again.”
Stoke had plenty of time to respond. Adam shot a foot wide from 25 yards and Peter Crouch curled a shot that had Julian Speroni scrambling across his goal only to drop inches wide.
Eventually Stoke went old-school with Shawcross pushed forward, but Palace manned the barricades and almost stole a second goal. Marouane Chamakh and Puncheon set up Ward, but Butland clawed away his deflected shot, then blocked Puncheon’s follow-up and clutched a third effort by Stuart O’Keefe. He bettered that with a late block from Puncheon’s close-range effort after Aaron Wilbraham’s dummy, but in vain as Palace held on.
“We were okay up to a point but the first goal was always going to be important and it played into Crystal Palace’s hands,” Stoke manager Mark Hughes said. “We didn’t have enough creativity in the final third to cause them any problems. We had too many not at their best and we can’t afford that. We’ve been talking about that [our away record] because we thought this was a real opportunity.”
Crystal Palace (4-4-1-1): Speroni; Mariappa, Gabbidon, Delaney, Parr; Puncheon, Ward, Jedinak, Bolasie (Moxey, 86); Guediora (O’Keefe, 69); Chamakh (Wilbraham, 86).
Stoke City (4-2-3-1): Butland; Cameron, Shawcross, Wilson, Pieters; Whelan (Ireland, 57), Nzonzi; Walters (Guidetti, 80), Adam, Assaidi (Arnautovic, 73); Crouch.
Referee: Lee Mason.
Man of the match: Mariappa (Crystal Palace)
Match rating: 6/10