Steve Clarke had cautioned against making too much of West Bromwich Albion's impressive start to the season and in a painful way he has been vindicated. Beaten comprehensively at Swansea in midweek, they went down again to a Stoke side that had not won away in 16 attempts since January 2.
Not that it was in any way a fluke. Stoke's methods away from home may not be particularly ambitious but they restricted Clarke's counter-attacking team largely to shooting from distance and when the chance arose to steal the points, they took it ruthlessly, in doing so turning a recent improvement in their results into definite progress. A fourth win in five matches moves them up to ninth in the Premier League table, four points behind Albion, who had their eyes on third place after Chelsea's defeat but ended the afternoon fifth.
Albion lost two in a row in October and recovered with four straight wins but this might be a bigger test for Clarke, who is still a relative novice as a manager despite his impressive coaching cv. He made six changes from the side beaten at Swansea, including his entire front four and both fullbacks. Plainly, it did not work, although he defended the changes.
"After two difficult away games in a week, up in the north-east and down in Wales, I thought it was right to freshen things up," he said. "But if you tried to say that was the reason we lost, you'd be wrong. It was always a game likely to be decided by one chance and unfortunately it was Stoke that got it."
The result was all the more pleasing for Tony Pulis, the Stoke manager, in light of the enforced absence of Peter Crouch, who is due to have a protective brace fitted after losing three teeth against Newcastle in midweek.
In his place, Kenwyne Jones ploughed a largely isolated furrow but did so tirelessly and it was his persistence that led to the decisive 75th-minute goal as he forced Jonas Olsson into a corner after the Albion centre back had failed to deal with Michael Kightly's long punt. Olsson ultimately cleared the ball blindly along the touchline, straight to Kightly, who charged into the box before finding fellow substitute Dean Whitehead, who had replaced a disappointing Charlie Adam, with a low cross that the Stoke midfielder squirted past Boaz Myhill.Reuse content