- Peter Crouch heads home tenth goal of the season to secure victory on South Coast.
- Potters move above Crystal Palace to end the campaign in 13th spot.
- Mark Hughes’ side miss out on a record eighth place Premier League finish by just three points.
STOKE CITY signed off their 2016/17 campaign in triumphant fashion at St Mary’s on Sunday afternoon.
Peter Crouch’s tenth goal of the season was enough to claim all three points for his side and secure the Potters a 13th place finish.
The victory was the Potters’ fourth on the road this term, and rounded off what Mark Hughes has described as a ‘frustrating’ season in positive fashion.
The visitors were indebted to the former England international and current Three Lions ace Jack Butland for their South Coast success, with both players producing heroics at either end of the pitch.
Whilst Crouch’s landmark 50th Premier League headed goal, which was superbly assisted by Geoff Cameron, will grab the headlines, it was Butland who made a major contribution at the opposite end with a string of sublime second half saves.
The 24-year-old was a relative bystander for the best part of the afternoon, but he helped see out a brief Saints onslaught by denying no fewer than four Southampton players from close range.
But, to the credit of every player on the pitch, they all produced vastly improved displays to help the side bounce back from such a disappointing defeat at home to Arsenal seven days earlier.
Mark Hughes responded to that setback by making two changes to his starting line-up, as well as reverting back to a 3-4-3 formation, which has served his side well on several occasions on the
The Welshman recalled Ramadan and former Saints frontman Crouch to the line-up at the expense of Glen Johnson and the injured Marko Arnautovic.
His change in style threw the hosts, as they struggled to contain the visitors during the initial exchanges with Mame Diouf going close to breaking the deadlock after just 13 seconds.
Once the home side found their feet however, they began to assert themselves, although in truth rarely threatened to break the deadlock.
The best opportunity fell to Nathan Redmond right on the stroke of half-time, after he capitalised on an uncharacteristic mistake from Butland before watching his attempted chip bounce off the top of the bar.
The start of the second period heralded a bright spell for Hughes’ troops with Diouf heading wide from close range, having earlier seen a looping header cleared off the line by Steven Davis.
Stoke’s pressure eventually told though when Cameron burst down the right flank, dinked a delicious ball into the box, which Crouch met with real aplomb and powered into the back of the net.
One could have been two moments later when the striker narrowly failed to make contact with an acrobatic effort inside the danger zone, after this time being picked out by Erik Pieters.
There was always going to be a spell of Saints pressure as they pushed for the goal they needed to cement themselves eighth position in the table.
That storm came midway through the second half, although they were unable to capitalise on it as they found Butland in truly inspired form.
He firstly made an outstanding double save to deny skipper Davis and James Ward Prowse from point-blank range before he made an even better stop to deny substitute Manolo Gabbiadini, who managed to get in behind a stubborn City backline.
Sofiane Boufal then watched on in disbelief as his thunderous effort was flicked over the bar by the outstretched foot of Butland, before the England ace made one final save late on to deny Redmond from a tight angle.
There were late opportunities for the visitors to put the game to bed, and in the process elevate themselves Leicester City into 12th place, although a second goal frustratingly proved elusive.
Still, Hughes will take huge comfort from the fact that his side ended a campaign with victory for a third successive occasion, although he will rue several missed opportunities throughout the campaign to have accumulated the three additional points that would have secured a record eight place finish.
Oh well, on to the next one… see you in a couple of months time!