Jinx, curse, stranglehold, hoodoo – whatever word is used to define Stoke's astonishing ascendancy over West Bromwich seems somehow inadequate after substitute Ryan Shotton's bizarre goal settled yesterday's encounter with just 60 seconds remaining.
Shotton's opportunism, allied to fatal hesitation by the West Brom goalkeeper Ben Foster, means Albion have now won just once in 28 league meetings with Stoke, a sequence that started in the 1980s. They have also lost all three Premier League matches this season. Although the home head coach, Roy Hodgson, insisted the goal should not have stood, his protestations were no more convincing than the assertion in his programme column that the fixture's recent history would have no bearing on the outcome.
A turgid contest was drifting towards stalemate when Jon Walters hooked the ball forward, more in hope than expectation, and Gabriel Tamas left it for what looked a routine catch by the advancing Foster. Shotton, however, had chased the lost cause in typical Stoke style and his outstretched foot reached the ball just as the goalkeeper laid a hand on it.
All that was left for the 22-year-old reserve defender to do was run it into an empty net for the second goal of his new career as an emergency striker; the first won a Europa League tussle at Hadjuk Split.
A local boy who has cut his football teeth in loan spells at Altrincham, Tranmere Rovers and Barnsley, Shotton started to remove his shirt in celebration before settling for turning it back to front so that Stoke's delirious followers could see his name. Hodgson conceded that Albion had defended the attack "very badly" – Tamas might have been expected to impose his body between Shotton and Foster, who should have been more decisive – yet added: "The fact that it was such a clear foul made it even more galling. [Foster] could have been brave and taken a stud in the chest, but he thought he had a hand on the ball."
The referee, Mike Dean, told Hodgson he did not regard Shotton's boot as being too high. Tony Pulis, the Stoke manager, had not seen a replay of the incident but said his instinctive reaction was that the goal was legitimate. "If [Shotton] has caught the keeper there might be some question about it, but I didn't think he touched him at all."
Ironically, Mr Dean had not been appointed to a Stoke match since March last year when the club complained to the referees' supremo, Mike Riley, after he sent off three of their players in four games. They were not complaining as the refrain of "We always beat West Brom" echoed round the Smethwick End.
Foster's apparent lapse in concentration may have owed something to the fact that Stoke did not force him into a single save worthy of the name. Asmir Begovic, in contrast, made a flying stop from Shane Long's point-blank header during a deceptively bright start by Albion, who created half-chances but could not ruffle the defensive solidity which Pulis's signing of Jonathan Woodgate has enhanced. Wilson Palacios and Peter Crouch may yet follow him from Tottenham to the Potteries.
Pulis, whose side remain unbeaten in seven competitive games this season, declined to comment on specific targets but said the club's owners, the Coates family of Bet365, had assured him that there was "a pot of money if you can find the right players".
Substitutes: West Brom Thomas (Brunt, 66), Fortune (Tchoyi, 77), Dorrans (Morrison, 80). Stoke Wilkinson (Wilson, 37), Pugh (Etherington, 67), Shotton (Pennant, 75). Booked None.
Man of the match Woodgate.
Match rating 6/10.
Possession: West Brom 48% Stoke 52%. Attempts on target: West Brom 7 Stoke 1. Referee M Dean (Wirral).
Attendance 22,909.Reuse content