It seems that finally, our impressive nine-game unbeaten start to the season has come to a bitterly disappointing end as Sunderland ran riot at the Stadium of Light. The Black Cats in contrast hadn`t won any of their opening five games, meaning that Steve Bruce has been feeling the heat, especially as he has spent big over the summer, but the hot water for him has cooled considerable after a comprehensive 4-0 victory against us today.
Stoke recently made the disappointing trip back from Dynamo Kiev after they couldn`t quite hold out against the Ukrainian side, despite the intense pressure, nevertheless a draw was still a good result. However jet-lag can`t be blamed for the abysmal result today as Asmir Begovic, Marc Wilson, Jon Walters, Rory Delap, Dean Whitehead, Matthew Etherington and Peter Crouch had replaced Thomas Sorensen, Ryan Shotton, Andy Wilkinson, Matthew Upson, Glenn Whelan, Wilson Palacios and Salif Diao from the team that featured on Thursday`s Europa League Group Stage away match. Tony Pulis would have expected a lot more from the players didn`t make the trip, and I can only imagine the amount of steam that would have lifted his iconic cap off his boiling frustrated head during the half-time hair-drying session.
It didn`t take long for things to go wrong for Stoke as a corner was conceded on 5 minutes. The delicious delivery dropped to the awaiting feet of Titus Bramble, who connected with the ball to fire it past Robert Huth and goalwards. It zipped through Begovic`s legs, but not without a touch to take away the pace. Sadly though the Bosnian couldn`t turn and get down quick enough to stop it before it rolled across the line. A GOAL for Sunderland so early in the game was just the start of a long day for the Potters and Pulis.
Literally four minutes later Stoke found themselves in bother as Matty Etherington uncharacteristically lost possession too easily in his own half, which prompted a dangerous counter-attack led by Craig Gardner. He cut up the turf with his sheer pace and tanked into the area on the right hand side, but Ryan Shawcross magnificently challenged with precision to deny a golden opportunity.
It seemed that Sunderland were bossing the game and constantly posed questions of the stability of Stoke`s defence as both Gardner and John O`Shea floated balls into the area.
But on the tenth minute, Jonathan Woodgate couldn`t provide the correct answer as he accidentally headed the ball past Begovic! The ball was drove in from the left flank and Woodgate attempted to get ahead of Nicklas Bendtner, and although he was successful, his attempted clearance was off the wrong side of his head and it looped over the ‘keeper. Heads in hands for everyone, or if you`re anything like me, you would have drawn a target on the wall with a sharpie and hit your head against it repeatedly until no recollection of the two goals could be made.
I`m unsure, but apparently there actually in fact were two early conceded goals for Stoke. I`m also unsure as to what my name is or where my car keys are (they`re most likely in the car along with my driving licence).
Stoke needed to hit back, and fast so started to pull up their socks. Simon Mignolet was forced to make a double save to deny a desperate Stoke getting a way back into the game. Marc Wilson had an opportunity from a free-kick just outside of the box which rapidly shot on target. Mignolet could only parry the ball wide which found its way to Cameron Jerome who then took a shot on himself and Mignolet displayed excellent reactions as he palmed it away.
It was former Black Cat Dean Whitehead`s turn to have a go at goal from outside of the area, but his effort was skied and was immediately followed by sarcastic cheers from the Sunderland fans. This proved to be the story of Stoke`s game today as chances were not taken effectively.
Things got even worse for Stoke as a third GOAL for Sunderland came on the 28th minute. Bendtner managed to find Gardner in the area, who fired a ferocious effort towards goal. Shawcross slid in for the block, but it merely helped the ball along as the deflection saw the ball loop into the top corner and in. It was a well-worked move in all fairness as the ball was carried from the midfield and Bendtner was ever proving to be a handful.
More head-banging therapy was needed for me, which brings me nicely onto something that has been puzzling me; were there two Sunderland goals previously?
Stoke were crumbling under the pressure as they looked disoriented and unorganised, which increased the vulnerability of the defence; something that Pulis clearly grew increasingly annoyed about.
Rory Delap wound up for the long-thow on the nearside, however it proved to be tame as the ball was cleared and quickly turned into a counter-attack. Stephane Sessegnon floated in a ball from the left flank to perfectly find Sebastian Larsson at the far post, however his attempted at goal went thankfully wide which was a major escape from more embarrassment for Stoke.
With one minute left before half time, Bramble made a good block from a fierce Jerome effort that would have surely been on-target at least. Another counter was launched, but the final shot fromDavid Vaughan was easily gathered by Begovic.
The referee blew for half time and the Stoke players dragged their feet in disappointment as they headed into the dressing room for a gruelling ‘talk` with Tony. I would at this point summarise the first half for you, but I can`t remember it for the life of me. Never mind, I need to re-plaster this wall anyway.
Second half commenced and it was crucial that Stoke bury an early opportunity if they wanted to be anyway near of a comeback, but this proved to be a difficult task as the Black Cats had their tails up.
Mignolet parried away the ball on the 55th minute as the delivery from wide came in for Stoke, however Huth rushed in all guns blazing as the German clattered into the ‘keeper. Mignolet went down and needed a little treatment which earned Huth aplace in the book as he saw yellow.
A couple of minutes later and Sessegnon is awarded a free-kick right on the edge of the penalty area as he was fouled following some brilliant individual skill within quick-touch football that Sunderland had going within the build-up. Larsson was the man to step up and take the free-kick, and there it was! Another GOAL for Sunderland and it was the best one scored this afternoon by far. The beautiful curling kick nestled perfectly into the bottom corner of the net certainly had the expert accuracy, along with prolific pace and profound power.
Heads dropped and Stoke had truly lost grip of the game and things looked bleak as far as grabbing a point was concerned.
Pulis prayed that substitutes Kenwyne Jones and Jermaine Pennant, who came on for Cameron Jerome and Matty Etherington on the 61st and 63rd minutes respectively, could make enough impact to salvage a consolation goal for the depleted Potters.
The Black Cats were not going to budge however as they threatened a fifth. Kieran Richardson found Bendtner in the area, but the pacey lanky striker overran the ball and City escaped.
Stoke should have claimed a consolation on 83 minutes when Wilson’s turf-trimming cross came towards Peter Crouch at the back post. Crouch strained to react and put real effort into the kick, but timing was the key element missing as he totally missed the ball. Home supporters found this particularly amusing, as if the 6`8″ England International wasn`t amusing enough to watch.
Gardner had another shot on goal, but Begovic was there to deny him from 18 yards, shortly afterwards Stoke broke quickly to find Jones in the area, but his shot was blocked and cleared.
Stoke were slowing giving up as tiredness from chasing the ball crept in, and a subdued atmosphere from the away end was no help in the final minutes of the game.
Crouch was booked for a foul on Jack Colbeck which put the shrivelled cherry on the uninspiring cake that was this game as the referee finally blew the whistle for full time a minute later.
Give me a second…
Things happened today, and other things happened as a result of the previous happenings. But I`m sure that whatever happened today, whether it`s looked upon from a positive or a negative perspective, someone will fill in the major blanks for me after I`ve visited my doctor tomorrow morning about this chronic migraine . Now where`s that Aspirin?
Mignolet, O’Shea, Brown, Bramble, Richardson, Elmohamady, Vaughan, Gardner, Larsson (Colback, 63), Sessegnon (Dong-won, 81), Bendtner (Wickham, 85).
Subs: Westwood, Turner, Cattermole, McLean.
Begovic, Huth, Shawcross, Woodgate, Wilson, Walters, Whitehead, Delap (Palacios, 71), Etherington (Pennant, 65), Jerome (Jones, 61), Crouch.
Subs: Sorensen, Whelan, Upson, Wilkinson.