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18:36 6th February 2010

Stoke City 3 Blackburn Rovers 0

AN INSPIRED performance from Matthew Etherington lit up the Britannia Stadium on a day when the lifetime and achievements of arguably the club's greatest ever player and fellow winger Sir Stanley Matthews were being remembered.

Etherington's sublime performance on the left flank was reminiscent of one from the great man himself, and he will have undoubtedly been looking down from the clouds above in pride having witnessed arguably City's best performance in the top-flight since winning promotion in May 2008.

The former West Ham man was at the centre of every City attack. His pace and trickery tormented the Rovers backline throughout the encounter, while his deliveries oozed sheer class, as both Danny Higginbotham and Mamady Sidibe capitalised on them by firing the hosts into a two-goal half-time lead.

The best was yet to come though as he ensured all three points midway through the second half with an irresistible finish after collating brilliantly with Liam Lawrence on the edge of the penalty area.

Goals were always on the card as both sides named strong attacking line-ups as they looked to continue their recent good run of results. FA Cup goalscoring hero Ricardo Fuller returned to the fray for City at the expense of Tuncay, whilst Abdoulaye Faye's failure to shrug off a back spasm meant his place in the starting eleven went to Andy Wilkinson.

An emotional five minute video of Sir Stanley Matthews brought a rousing round of applause from everyone inside the stadium, and they had barely enough time to take their seats by the time Higginbotham had them back up once again. The former Manchester United trainee exquisitely volleyed home from 15-yards after Steven N'Zonzi could only half clear Etherington's dangerous in-swinging corner.

City continued to lay siege to the Rovers goal and in the twelfth minute they had the ball in the back of the net for a second time. However, after Robert Huth had tapped the ball into an empty net, the referee pulled it back for an apparent foul from Ricardo Fuller after he leaped highest at the back post to tee the German up.

A couple of trademark Rory Delap long throw-ins caused brief moments of panic inside the visitors penalty area, whilst the in-form Etherington curled a 30-yard free-kick harmlessly over the crossbar after Fuller had been pulled to the ground.

Sam Allardyce's side reminded the hosts they wouldn't be having it all their own way though by creating an opportunity that on loan Chelsea man Franco Di Santo should have levelled the scoreline with.

Norwegian international Morten Gamst Pedersen swung a delightful cross into the danger zone, right into the path of the striker, however, from 6-yards he headed over Thomas Sorensen's crossbar.

A brave challenge from Andy Wilkinson, which resulted in him cutting his head open, denied Di Santo what would have been a certain equaliser midway through the first half as he brilliantly flung himself between the ball and the Rovers striker's foot to clear the ball away from danger.

Rovers really began to assert themselves onto the game as the half wore on, and went close on a number of occasions as a series of corners pegged City back into their own penalty area.

Sorensen comfortably dealt with the first two as he parried them away from goal, but the third one very nearly resulted in a leveller for the visitors.

Samba, who had just been booked along with Shawcross for unsporting behaviour, powered a head towards goal which Whitehead brilliantly cleared off the line.

It was another set-piece which very nearly resulted in a second goal of the afternoon for City in the 43rd minute when Whitehead latched onto the end of a huge Delap long throw-in, but just couldn't manage to get the ball from under his feet as Ryan Nelsen intervened.

However, right on the stroke of half time, the Potters did double their advantage and once again Etherington was the catalyst as his sublime ball into the six-yard box was turned past Paul Robinson and into the back of the net by Malian striker Sidibe, fresh from agreeing a new long term deal with the club.

The second half continued pretty much in similar fashion to how the first period ended, with the hosts firmly on top. Etherington, who continued to put his name in the frame for a call up to the England squad, delivered another teasing corner which Shawcross headed goalwards only for Robinson to respond with a superb one handed save.

Rovers' task of getting back into the game looked difficult as the Potters continued to hold the upper hand, so when they had defender Samba sent off for a second yellow card after needlessly pulling back Fuller, just before the hour mark, their task became nigh on impossible.

In fact, they began to fall to pieces as Higginbotham forced Martin Olsson into a goal line clearance, whilst Fuller went agonisingly close to making it three when he forced Robinson into another smart save shortly after. City didn't have to wait long to sign, seal and deliver the victory though as Etherington capped off an incredible performance with a delightful individual goal in the 67th minute.

Chants of 'are you watching Fabio' echoed around the stadium as City's supporters rallied behind the calls of Tony Pulis and Peter Coates for Etherington to receive his first international call-up, and on this performance surely it can't be too far away.

Pulis introduced James Beattie, Tuncay and Glenn Whelan late on at the expense of Sidibe, Fuller and Delap, and Republic of Ireland star Whelan went close to making it four. However, his powerful free-kick deflected just over the bar via the head of Nelsen.

City held firm late on to ensure a second consecutive clean sheet, and the win moves the Potters up above Blackburn into 11th place on 29 points.

    Data provided by Press Association


    The Potters played out four replays to finally beat Bury in the FA Cup in 1955