Tony Pulis declined to smile after seeing his Stoke City team seize their first away win of the season, but the satisfaction was evident in his eyes and his body language. His industrious players obeyed orders, crushed their local rivals from down the M6 and made Premier League survival a probability – and all with a plan and style that made nonsense of claims that they are all-out long-ball merchants.
It was their first top-flight win at The Hawthorns in 28 years and anywhere away from home at this level since a victory at Luton Town in May 1984; good enough reasons for at least a grin, but not for Pulis. "It is an important result for us, but we have to keep our feet on the ground," he said. Substance had prevailed over style. "We now face seven very difficult games. We have Newcastle next and that is a massive game for us and we will prepare for it as best we can and then move on again. There is not going to be any complacency at this club, but this is a monkey off our back."
As Pulis tried to turn temporary dreamland into reality, his West Bromwich Albion counterpart, Tony Mowbray, attempted the opposite, keeping alive hopes of a great escape from the club's gloomy predicament at the foot of the table. "It leaves us with a mountain to climb but, as I said to the players in the dressing room, we have to keep going," he said. "We have seven games to go and nobody here is going to capitulate. Let's see what we can do. There will be less pressure on us now. The players gave everything, but individual mistakes cost us dearly. It happens. They are human beings and they make mistakes."
Albion's defensive errors, rather than their ambitious style, may have condemned them to defeat, but Stoke's game plan did its job. "We came up with West Brom last year and we have played them a few times under Tony's management," Pulis explained."They play an expansive game and we set ourselves up for it in a certain way and it worked. We were very compact, very tight, and when we had chances to go forward we were dangerous."
This was most apparent at the start of each half when Ricardo Fuller, after two minutes, and James Beattie, on 49, struck to beat Scott Carson with embarrassing ease and signal the home fans' despondent exodus. Albion threw everything into a response and saw a Chris Brunt shot hit the bar, but it was all without reward.
Goals: Fuller (2) 0-1; Beattie (49) 0-2.
West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2): Carson; Zuiverloon, Martis, Olsson, Robinson (Teixeira, 60); Morrison, Valero, Greening (Koren, 60), Brunt; Simpson (Bednar, 60), Fortune. Substitutes not used: Kiely (gk), Hoefkens, Moore, Dorrans.
Stoke City (4-4-2): Sorensen; Wilkinson, Shawcross, Faye, Higginbotham; Lawrence (Pugh, 73), Delap, Whelan, Etherington; Beattie (Cresswell, 78), Fuller (Olofinjana, 88). Substitutes not used: Simonsen (gk), Kelly, Camara, Sonko.
Referee: M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).
Man of the match: Etherington.