Date: 13th April 2008 at 9:02pm
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Stoke stormed back to the top of the Championship with a penalty from Ricardo Fuller and a late second half winner from Liam Lawrence, who was playing the role of super sub after struggling back from injury.

As expected, Tony Pulis brought back Ricardo Fuller into the starting line-up alongside Shola Ameobi and Mamady Sidibe was forced to settle for a place on the bench. Glenn Whelan was a late casualty after coming down with a dose of flu and Pulis juggled the defence bring in Carl Dickinson and moving Danny Pugh up into midfield – a position where he is clearly more productive. Liam Lawrence, although not yet fully fit, was given a place on the bench as a win was vital at the Ricoh if the Potters were still to dream of an automatic promotion place.

But the plan rapidly appeared to be disintegrating yet again. The Potters, along with the most of the top of the Championship, seem to be steadfastly refusing to break away. The Sky Blues, who are facing relegation problems at the foot of the table, made the most of the opening encounters with two near misses within the opening five minutes, including one that hit the bar.

Stoke then suffered the first of two injury blows when Ameobi was forced to be replaced by Big Mama after only twenty minutes, But even though a large Potters’ following of over 3,000 were in fine voice all afternoon, it was the home side that had the first goal to cheer about. Referee, Uriah Rennie had no hesitation in pointing to the spot when Carl Dickinson tripped up Thornton in the middle of a goalmouth melee on the half hour mark. Elliot Ward had little trouble converting the kick and the Potters were behind in a match yet again.

But the Potters’ injury troubles were not over yet. Just before half-time Pulis was forced into his second substitution of the match when Andy Griffin had to be replaced by Ryan Shawcross after suffering, what appeared to be, a hamstring injury. Although most fans would have been pleased to see the England U21 international back on the pitch after he had been forced to miss two games through suspension and a third spent on the bench.

TP’s recent half-time team talks must be getting familiar to the players as they yet again had to attempt to battle back from a goal down. But, yet again, they came storming back into the game, but unlike the Palace match on Monday, this time they managed to gain something from their efforts. Following a good chance from Fuller thwarted by the Sky Blues’ keeper, Ric again set off for the home penalty area doing one of his usual weaving runs and was then brought down very convincingly in full view of Mr. Rennie.

So it was Stoke’s turn to place the ball on the spot and Ric Fuller put the ball low and to the keeper’s left to bring the Potters back on to level pegging just ten minutes after the restart.

Stoke continued to show good dominance and recent loan signing, Stephen Pearson could have put the Potters ahead from a Fuller cross but just failed to connect with the ball. The manager then decided to throw caution to the wind and played Stoke’s joker with the introduction on Liam Lawrence with 25 minutes of the match remaining at the expense of Pearson.

Lawrence made all the difference and it was no surprise that he was on hand when Ricard Cresswell’s run down the middle of the park broke down on the edge of the area and Liam picked up the ball and fired it into the back of the net. We’ll even forgive him his subsequent booking for removing his shirt!

So the Potters celebrated their first victory for a month and were also able to celebrate returning to top spot after none of the other teams could muster anything other than a draw.

With Bristol City visiting the Brit next weekend for what is now going to be one of the matches of the season, the Potters should be brimming full of confidence.

Coventry City: Schmeichel, Osbourne, Ward, Dann, Fox, Tabb, Stephen Hughes, Doyle, Thornton, Mifsud (Hines 84), Best (Simpson 85)
Subs not used: Marshall, Hall, Gray

Stoke City: Nash, Griffin (Shawcross 40), Riggott, Cort, Dickinson, Cresswell, Pugh, Delap, Pearson (Lawrence 67), Fuller, Ameobi (Sidibe 25).
Subs not used: Simonsen, Bothroyd