Lawrence strike leaves Stoke safe but Hull are still sinking

Hull City 1 Stoke City 2
Click to follow
The Independent Online

It took Stoke City 24 years to get back in the top flight of English football and they have survived. In August, how many people thought that line would be written in early May with two games still remaining? But for Hull City, who took 104 years to get up, what fate awaits them?

A Stoke performance of strength, discipline and no little skill, in which Glenn Whelan, Rory Delap, Ricardo Fuller and Abdoulaye Faye were outstanding, erased what little mathematical doubt there was for manager Tony Pulis. At the end Faye led his colleagues in a dance in front of the ecstatic visiting fans. They have earned a jig.

Hull have added more colour to the Premier League than Stoke, but inherent in the drama of their rise was the expectation of a fall. It has come in weekly instalments from mid-December, when they drew 2-2 at Anfield to sit sixth.

Since then Hull have played 19 league games – half a season – and won once. This was a fifth consecutive defeat and while they remain fourth-bottom, that can change tomorrow night if Newcastle United defeat Middlesbrough at St James' Park. It can also happen if Boro win 3-0.

Should either of those scenarios occur then Hull will be in the bottom three for the first time all season. It is not good timing. They go to manager Phil Brown's former club Bolton next Saturday, then face Manchester United here.

"I'm still confident, still believe," said a downbeat Brown, "and I've asked my players to keep the faith. The difference today was nerves. There was urgency but it was misdirected." He agreed all eyes are now on St James'.

"I am absolutely delighted," said Pulis, who paid a sincere tribute to the Stoke chairman Peter Coates. "It's been a tough season for us but we've been battle-hardened. The supporters have had belief and that has galvanised us."

Pulis added that he will fly off this morning to watch a game abroad. Planning for next season has begun.

"You should have played long-ball," was a chant from the high-volume Stoke contingent. The self-deprecation reflected well on them because it was Stoke who played the football.

In Whelan, Liam Lawrence and the sprightly Matthew Etherington, Pulis has three midfielders whose instinct is pass-and-move. The fourth midfielder, Delap, gave plenty defensively but it was the guile of Lawrence and the neatness of Etherington that stretched Hull.

There were early useful efforts from Fuller, who made a 40th minute burst to feed Lawrence, whose volley was deflected wide for a corner. Lawrence took it and when the flat centre arrived, Hull's packed area froze.

Only Fuller moved and he swivelled to drag a six-yard shot past Boaz Myhill. Hull sensed the worst and Brown was faced with one of his most testing half-time team-talks.

When Kevin Kilbane forced Thomas Sorensen into a scrambling save just 48 seconds into the second half, it seemed Brown's words had had the desired effect. Brown then made changes, though Geovanni did not appear until the 67th minute. But while there was territorial pressure, Stoke were resolute.

All the while Stoke offered a threat on the break. Whelan's lobbed volley came back off a post on 64 minutes and nine minutes later Fuller twisted on the halfway line and Hull were backtracking nervously.

Seeing Lawrence overlapping, Fuller fed his winger. Lawrence scored a vital winner against Blackburn last month and here he steadied himself before planting a 20-yarder over the static Myhill and into the top corner.

The stadium began to empty. There were six minutes of added time and in the fifth, a free-kick from the edge of the Stoke area was bent past Sorensen by Andy Dawson but it was all too little, too late. Seconds later the final whistle blew. This was Stoke's day.

Attendance: 24,932

Referee: Howard Webb

Man of the match: Whelan

Match rating: 7/10

Comments