Stoke strike up a promotion march

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Football

PHIL SHAW

Stoke City 2 Wolverhampton Wanderers 0

Goals by their small but perfectly in-form forwards, Mike Sheron and Simon Sturridge, restored Stoke to the First Division's play-off zone in a full-bloodied Staffordshire derby a the Victoria Ground last night. Wolves, who would have climbed to eighth had they continued their three- game winning streak, may now need full points from virtually all their remaining fixtures to finish in the top six.

After bowing out of March with a run of just two points from five games, Stoke's perfect start to April was founded on a third-minute goal. Graham Potter, finding his free-kick returned to him by Eric Young's poor header, floated the ball back into the danger area. Nigel Gleghorn touched it on for Sheron, with an instinctive flick of the right foot, to collect his ninth goal in 15 starts since signing from Norwich.

Far from attempting to sit on their lead, Stoke sought to press home their advantage. Gleghorn sent a drive a yard wide, before Sheron, whose highly mobile partnership with Sturridge troubled Wolves, released Ray Wallace on goal. After a moment's hesitation, betraying his origins as a defender, Wallace scuffed his shot wide.

Mark McGhee, the Wolves manager, had built the game up as the club's biggest since last year's play-offs. They began to push Stoke back before half-time, but had only Steve Bull's 25-yard shot on the turn and a low drive by Steve Corica to show for their efforts, both of which forced Mark Prudhoe into fine one-handed saves.

McGhee's exhortations from the bench were vociferous enough to provoke a lecture by the local constabulary. Wolves began the second half as if suitably admonished, yet they ought to have fallen further behind and equalised in the space of 60 seconds before Stoke eventually doubled their lead.

A long, diagonal pass by Stoke's Carl Beeston, dummied by Sturridge, gave Wallace another opening. His shot, from 18 yards beat Mike Stowell, only to smack against the far post. Sheron blazed the rebound wide. Immediately, Corica played Don Goodman in at the other end, but having shrugged off Larus Sigurdsson, the striker's aim was as wayward as Sheron's.

It proved a costly miss. An enterprising break by Sigurdsson shortly before the hour set up Sturridge 20 yards out, a less-than-venomous drive bobbling beyond Stowell's reach for his 11th goal of the season.

Stoke City (4-4-2) Prudhoe; Clarkson, Sigurdsson, Cranson, Sandford; Beeston (Keen, 76), Wallace, Gleghorn, Potter (Dreyer, 87); Sheron (Carruthers, 83), Sturridge.

Wolverhampton Wanderers (3-5-2) Stowell; Richards, Venus (Ferguson, 74), Young; Smith (Atkins, h-t), Thompson, Osborn (Rankine, 81), Corica, Froggatt; Bull, Goodman.

Referee: M Pierce (Portsmouth).

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