A first-half penalty from Jon Walters and an outstanding defensive display saw Stoke continue their unbeaten start to the season with a 1-0 win over Liverpool at the Britannia Stadium.
Everton fan Walters converted a 20th minute spot kick after he was fouled by Jamie Carragher in the area and Stoke’s defence had to be at its best to keep Liverpool at bay as an array of shots reigned in on Begovic’s goal throughout the second half.
Asmir Begovic has been nothing short of fantastic in goal for Stoke, but in one unbelievable moment in the second half, the Bosnian saved three Liverpool efforts in the space of only a few seconds to prevent the Anfield giants from grabbing a seemingly inevitable equaliser after Jordan Henderson was initially put through one-on-on.
The Potters’ defence has now only conceded once in four premier league games, but despite a heroic display, it had Luis Suarez to thank in the last-minute as the Uruguayan superstar spurned an absolute sitter with the goal gaping in front of him.
The victory means the Potters have taken 8 points from 4 Premier League games and are sitting in the top 4.
Tony Pulis handed a debut to Peter Crouch, with the other new-signings Wilson Palacios and Cameron Jerome on the bench.
Matthew Upson came in for Jonathan Woodgate(calf strain) and Delap returned to his familiar birth in the centre of midfield.
Stoke were neat and tidy in the first half but it was Liverpool who started the game stronger, with Luis Suarez firing an effort over the bar after good work from Charlie Adam.
The Potters were forced to defend and hit the Reds on the counter attack but most of the opportunities came from set pieces, with Shawcross failing to connect with a header from an Etherington free kick.
Suarez continued to threaten with his outstanding dribbling abilities, ghosting into the penalty area before Shawcross snuffed out the danger.
Liverpool were beginning to get a hold of the game and the ball wasn’t dropping for Stoke as continued pressure gave Suarez another opportunity, but disciplined defending from Matthew Upson ensured it came of nothing.
It looked like, if anything, Liverpool were getting closer and closer to a breakthrough but it was Stoke who took the lead against the run of the play.
A Peter Crouch flick on found Jon Walters in the area and the Ireland international was bundled over by Jamie Carragher, before stepping up and smashing a superb penalty straight down the middle as Pepe Reina flew to his right.
Liverpool looked to hit back from the restart and after Begovic failed to clear a Jordan Henderson cross, the ball fell to Luis Suarez who hit a stinging shot towards the goal but Ryan Shawcross was on hand to make a terrific block.
Martin Skrtel spurned another chance for Liverpool after more good work from Suarez, who burst down the left before swinging in a drilled cross for Skrtel to fire over the bar as they searched for an equaliser before the break.
Stoke had an opportunity of their own though, and Ryan Shawcross probably should’ve done better after he failed to direct a header on goal from an Etherington corner.
The break came and Stoke were undoubtedly the happier of the two after taking the lead, but liverpool fancied their chances of getting something from the game after a number of half-chances failed to go their way in the first half.
The game restarted and a rare break forward from Rory Delap saw the 34-year-old surge down the right hand side of the pitch before curving a cross which just alluded Etherington on the edge of the area.
The Liverpool pressure was beginning to mount though and it took one of the best pieces of combative defending you will see this season to keep them out.
A gap in the Stoke defence saw Jordan Henderson surge through on goal with only the keeper to beat and what came next had to be seen to be believed.
Begovic saved two consecutive efforts from Henderson on the edge of the area with Upson and Shawcross throwing their bodies on the line as they blocked another two shots on goal from liverpool, before ANOTHER Begovic save from Suarez ensured the Potters held onto their lead after a goal looked certain.
Perhaps that was the psychological blow which was enough to see Stoke through the rest of the game, with Carroll and Bellamy being thrown on by Dalglish as Liverpool searched desperately for a goal which would keep their unbeaten start to the season intact.
Pulis responded by making changes of his own, with Wilkinson replacing Huth who went off with a slight knock.
New signing Wilson Palacios also entered the fray to a loud roar from the Stoke faithful and Kenwyne Jones replaced Matthew Etherington as Jon Walters was shifted out to the left.
There was more danger for Stoke as Suarez again himself in the area with only Upson to beat, but the defender’s outstanding block epitomised a defensive display to be proud of from the former West Ham Captain.
liverpool screamed for a penalty but someone should’ve told Suarez that smashing a ball at a players hand from a couple of centre-metres away won’t get you a penalty.
Shawcross was awesome throughout and after this performance it’s hard to see why Capello is overlooking him on footballing reasons.
The 23-year-old made another crucial header from Downing’s cross in the dying stages of the encounter and it looked like Stoke had rode the storm.
But there was one last scare to come, and it really should’ve ended with Liveprool stealing a last-gasp equalizer.
Suarez looked a cut above throughout the match, and after a mix up between Begovic and Crouch in the penalty area, it looked for all the world the new Kop hero would simply place the ball into an empty net.
Every fan in the stadium had their hearts in their mouths but he guided the ball wide of Begovic’s goal, missing a golden opportunity to level the game before the referee blew his whistle to end a nail-biting encounter.
Asmir Begovic 9
He’s the best keeper in the Premier League, I truly believe that. Another match-winning display, and he’s only 24. He’s made some stunning saves in his Stoke career already but the double save from Henderson and his alertness in getting back on his line to save another effort from Suarez all in the space of about 10 seconds was phenominal.
Robert Huth – 7
He never looks fully comfortable at full back, but he’s such a great defender he looks solid there. Was troubled by Suarez in the first half, but who isn’t? Taken off in the second half, hopefully it’ll just be a knock and he’ll be available for the Sunderland game.
Ryan Shawcross 9
One of the best signings the club will ever make and he continues to improve in my opinion, another faultless display – don’t let the ‘He won’t play for England because of his passing ability’ fool you, this guy has a lot of ability, at least as much as his defensive partner and he started a world cup match last summer…
Matthew Upson 8
I was extremely sceptical about him starting yesterday, but he had a terrific game and it looks like he could be another inspired signing by Pulis. Strong in the tackle and in the air, clever positionally. Well done lad!
Marc Wilson 8
I really, really like Wilson as a player. And in my opinion he’s too good at full back to move him elsewhere, never lets us down and has genuine quality on the ball, another display where he strolled through the game, makes it look easy at times.
Matthew Etherington 7
Rarely had much of a chance going forward as Stoke were forced to defended for large periods of the game, but he worked as hard as ever and used the ball cleverly.
Dean Whitehead 8
Deano never lets us down and he had a very good game today, kept his position in ‘the cage’ extremely well can be very proud of his performance.
Rory Delap 7
A usual Delap performance, broke up the play well.
Jermaine Pennant 7
Looked to impress his former club but like Etherington he found it tough as Stoke looked to maintain their shape against a Liverpool team searching for an equaliser during most of the game.
Peter Crouch 7
The big-name signing was given a baptism of fire in a game where chances were few and far between for the England international. He couldn’t have done better though, he worked hard and used the ball well, flicking it on for Walters to win the penalty. It may have gone unnoticed by many but his defensive headers were also vital in ensuring Stoke’s win today. We won’t see the best of our strikers against the top teams and I’m sure Crouch will be a fantastic signing who will terrorize plenty of teams this season.
Jon Walters 8
I had serious doubts over whether he’d make it in the Premier League but the guy is just a total machine, he’d probably never work in another Premiership side but for Stoke he’s outstanding. It’s refreshing to see a player come back after a long period out of the top flight and really grasp his opportunity with both hands. Another all-action performance capped off with a goal, epitomises what Stoke City is all about.
Kenwyne Jones 7
Came on and helped the team with some defensive headers, one burst down the left which saw him glide past Glen Johnson was the only attacking highlight but our options up front have gone from threadbare to scary.
Andy Wilkinson 7
Wilko did a great job as ever, and clashed heads with another player, as ever. A great player to have in the squad and I’m sure he’ll get plenty of games this year.
The new signing slotted right into the unit, more or less as a third centre half as Stoke tried to contain Liverpool, like Crouch, we’ll see the best of him when fully fit and in different circumstances. He’ll be a fantastic player for us and it’s great to see him in a Stoke shirt.
Is this really happening?
These really are unbelievable times for Stoke fans, better than the 70’s? Only those old enough to experience such times can decide that. But surely, Pulis has built a fantastic squad of players and I doubt Stoke fans have ever been more proud of their team as they are now.
The pundits on Sky Sports News were suggesting we could finish top 6 this season. Whilst we’ve built a good squad which is capable of hitting the top 10, I’m not so sure about that, especially with the addition of Europe this year. But who knows? I never even thought we’d hit the play-offs in the Championship, who’d have thought we’d be where we are today!
Our defence is absolutely ridiculous and you’ll struggle to find a better organised team in Europe, 8 points from 4 matches? That’s the perfect start and everything is looking rosy at Stoke.
Lets fill those corners in though, yeh?
Vital Stoke wishes everyone who is making the trip to Kiev on Thursday a safe journey and a brilliant night.
Goarn Stoke! Amazing times