West Bromwich Albion haven`t had the best start to the season under Tony Pulis, but they can count themselves lucky by taking a difficult 3 points away at Pulis` old hunting ground, the Britannia Stadium. Both sets of fans were craving their first win of the season, after both failing to get off the ground in the league, and only just scraping through on penalties against lower league opposition in the Capital One Cup.
Stoke had Bojan at their disposal, after his lengthy absence from the injury he picked up in January against Rochdale. After playing nearly 90 minutes in midweek, he was called up to the bench for the second home game of the season. Xherdan Shaqiri was set to make his home debut in the league, to which he received a fantastic reception from the Stoke faithful. West Brom on the other hand had their new £12 million signing Salomon Rondon starting up front, and with rumours not going away that Jonny Evans has signed for the club, there may be a new signing on the horizon there, a potentially fantastic coup for the Midlands club.
To the start of the game, as the teams come out and the players names were being announced, Tony Pulis made his grand entrance back to the ground where he arguably made his name as a manager. As he entered the ground and applauded all 4 corners of the ground, all 4 corners showed the ex-Stoke boss the respect he fully deserves, a fantastic touch from Potters fans.
All pre-existing relations had to be torn in half at the whistle though, and from the word go, Stoke looked dominant. They had the lions share of possession, they looked confident and Affelay and Shaqiri looked very promising on the wings. Early on in the first half, West Brom`s Craig Dawson gave Affelay one of those ‘let him know you`re there` type of challenges, as both of them chased the ball out of play, Dawson seemingly pushed Affelay into the advertising hoardings which riled the Potters winger up, almost like you could sense it was going to turn sour at some point.
Unfortunately for the home fans, things turned sour. Things turned sour extremely quickly with 2 dismissals in 6 first half minutes. The first of which was to the pumped up Affelay, but this one comes with its own controversy. Baggies midfielder Craig Gardner had slid in on the Potters winger, drawing the foul and free kick to Stoke.
As Affelay was on the floor, Gardner seemingly slapped Affelay in the face, to which he responded by getting up and slapping Gardner back, cue a theatrical display fit for a BAFTA from Gardner. Unfortunately, Affelay left referee Michael Oliver with no choice but to send him off, but Gardner was only booked for his involvement, a very strange decision, but it was one that you could just feel coming with Affelay earlier in the game.
The second red card came on the 31st minute, this was another interesting call. The ball was played down West Brom`s right wing, where Dawson and Charlie Adam were chasing. The two players went for the same ball, and Dawson ended up on the floor. Adam was then deemed to have stamped on Dawson as he was on the floor, something that the linesman pointed out to referee Michael Oliver who didn`t hesitate to reach for the card again and send Adam off.
With the Stoke fans incensed, and baying for the officials blood, the game continued and in the dying embers of the first half, it was West Brom who took the lead and used the 2 man advantage as Salomon Rondon headed in from close range to net his first Premier League goal. The ball was swung in from the depleted left wing of Stoke, and Rondon headed down from the left hand side of the goal and left Butland with no chance, as the bullet header settled in the corner of the net. Half time, 1-0 to the travelling Baggies.
Stoke needed a response in the second half, and with 9 men, they were a sight to behold. Even with a fully depleted outfield squad, they were outstanding. Whelan dominated the midfield, Butland was like a rock in goal and the back 4, especially Cameron and Muniesa were world class. They refused to let the away team back into the game, which as the game wore on worked out well for Stoke.
As the game was seemingly dying out, Stoke sprung into life, and it was the moment that Austrian winger Marko Arnautovic made his appearance. He was the determination, quality and power that Stoke had just lacked, and when he came on the Potters were a different beast. As shots on target came, they were quite sparse as you`d expect with 9 men, but Stoke were dominating possession again and making West Brom look very poor. The best chance of the game for Stoke probably came right at the death, where Arnautovic won a free kick about 25 yards out, straight down the centre of the goal. Unfortunately the ball was fired straight into the defence, however it was a good chance.
It is a game that will be remembered more for Stoke`s resilience, ‘never say die’ attitude, and of course refereeing decisions. Take nothing away from Stoke, they looked superb. West Brom should be worried though, even with the win they looked toothless with the 2 man advantage, and in this league especially, you need to make that count.
Stoke: Arsenal (a), Leicester (h), Fulham (a, Capital One Cup)
WBA: Southampton (h), Aston Villa (a), Norwich (a, Capital One Cup)