A first Premier League goal for Jon Walters lifted Stoke to seventh place and offered a message of encouragement to any young player inclined to think the chance of making an impact at the highest level may have slipped away. Now 27, Walters made his debut in the top flight in August 2002 – for Sam Allardyce's Bolton, as it happens – but not much more than three years ago was playing for Chester City in the bottom half of League Two.
Chester was his sixth club in a lower-division career that appeared to be heading for nowhere except more of the same. He admits that a hedonistic social life, combined with a naïve assumption – born of taking the field against Liverpool still a week short of his 19th birthday – that he had made it as a Premier League footballer, were at least partly to blame.
"I had a little sniff and when you are young you think you have arrived," he said. "But at that age, I didn't look after myself properly. I was a young lad. I was going out too much – you know what it's like. Sam did not say anything to me but when you're a young lad at a club, no one really knows what you're doing.
"But you don't know what chance you've been given until you lose it. I ended up going to Hull and I can understand why Sam let me go. I was looking into a bit of an abyss in the lower divisions. If you have a bad season you can be out of football. But I've had a bit of luck and I'm taking my chance with both hands. It's taken a lot of hard work to get back to where I am and that work doesn't stop now."
Ipswich saw the striker's potential when they signed him in January 2007 and were rewarded with 30 goals from 124 League starts before Stoke's Tony Pulis decided he was ready for a second crack at the big time, paying £2.75m for him in August.
He took his chance three minutes into the second half when Matthew Etherington provided his 10th assist of the season – a remarkable statistic given Stoke have scored only 12 goals – with the pass that put him goal-side of centre-back Chris Samba.
Having also forced three saves from Blackburn goalkeeper Paul Robinson, Etherington edged out Stoke's other winger, Jermaine Pennant, as man of the match in a performance that Pulis believed illustrated his side's steady evolution to one capable of at least some expansive football.
Allardyce blamed his defence for "messing up" but was magnanimous enough to give credit, to Walters, where he felt it was due.
Stoke City 4-4-1-1: Sorensen; Huth, Shawcross, Ab Faye, Collins; Pennant (Fuller, 77), Whitehead, Delap (Whelan, 90), Etherington (Wilson, 89); Walters; K Jones. Substitutes not used: Begovic (gk), Higginbotham, Gudjohnsen, Sanli.
Booked Huth, Delap.
Blackburn Rovers 4-4-1-1: Robinson; Salgado, Samba, Nelsen, Givet; Emerton (Mwaruwari, 75), Nzonzi, Jones, E-H Diouf (Olsson, 54); Pedersen (Hoilett, 86); M B Diouf. Substitutes not used: Bunn (gk), Kalinic, Andrews, Chimbonda.
Booked Givet, E-H Diouf, Nzonzi.
Man of the match Etherington.
Possession Stoke 52% Blackburn 48%.
Shots on target Stoke 10 Blackburn 5.
Referee H Webb (S Yorkshire).
Match rating 7/10.Reuse content