As is often the way with strikers seeking to end a personal goal drought, it takes only one sight of the net rippling to bring confidence back and so it was with Graziano Pelle, who had gone 855 minutes without scoring when he put Southampton in front but needed only 19 minutes more to add another.
The two goals, inside the first half-hour, were enough to secure a first win in four for Ronald Koeman’s side, who moved ahead of Liverpool to go seventh in the table, a point closer than Stoke to achieving the Europa League qualification that is target for both.
Pelle (right), whose last goal had been against Bournemouth on 1 November, scored 17 times in his debut season with Saints and his contrasting fortunes this year have led to stories of homesickness for Italy.
He says he wants to stay and it was noticeable that he ran directly to the bench after heading home a Steven Davis corner to give his side an 11th-minute lead.
“With strikers it is all about scoring goals,” Koeman said. “If they don’t score, they are really unhappy and starting to be nervous. He was struggling a little bit but he is a big personality and he had a great game today.”
His second said much about Stoke’s day, especially in the first half. A skilful interchange with Dusan Tadic helped set up the chance but manager Mark Hughes blamed slack defending for allowing Pelle to reach a shooting position and felt England goalkeeper Jack Butland “would have been disappointed” not to keep out his 15-yard shot.
“The second half was better from us but you can’t give good teams that kind of start and it took the game away from us,” Hughes said.
Marko Arnautovic flicked home an Ibrahim Affelay cross early in the second half for Stoke but Southampton should have been 3-0 up at half-time, Tadic having dithered with the goal at his mercy.
A late and seemingly harsh red card for Sadio Mané after a 50-50 aerial challenge with Erik Pieters took the shine off a little for Koeman. “It was a big mistake by the referee,” he said. “Even Pieters told me it was nothing. We will appeal.”
Stoke: (4-2-3-1) Butland; Pieters (Walters, 90), Wollscheid, Shawcross, Cameron; Imbula, Whelan (Crouch, 77); Arnautovic, Afellay, Shaqiri (Bojan, 30); Diouf.
Southampton: (4-4-2) Forster; Martina, Van Dijk, Bertrand, Targett (Yoshida, 79); Davis, Romeu, Clasie (Ward-Prowse, 68), Tadic (Mané, 74); Long, Pelle.
Referee: Lee Mason
Man of the match: Pelle (Southampton)
Match rating: 8/10
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