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22:03 9th November 2010

Whitehead's Priceless Winner

DEAN WHITEHEAD scrambled home a priceless late winner to give Stoke City a much-needed win in their thrilling Barclays Premier League encounter with Birmingham City in front of the television cameras at the Britannia Stadium.

The midfielder spared City's blushes with his 84th minute strike after they had surrendered a two-goal lead in the face of a Birmingham fightback.

Tony Pulis' side had looked on course for victory when defender Robert Huth opened the scoring just before half-time and then Ricardo Fuller produced a magnificent solo effort in the 71st minute to give them a two-goal cushion.

But the game turned on its head in dramatic fashion as the Blues hit back with two goals in as many minutes from Keith Fahey and Cameron Jerome.

Fortunately for the Potters, Whitehead popped up with the all-important third goal to settle the game and give his side a win they so badly needed to halt their slide down the table after a run of four successive League defeats.

In stark contrast to previous Stoke-Birmingham encounters with few goals, this was a lively affair that produced five.

Pulis made three changes to the side beaten at Sunderland with Higginbotham being preferred to Wilkinson as the replacement for the suspended Ryan Shawcross and both Delap and Fuller being called into the starting line-up.

After a slow start by both sides, it was Birmingham who had the first meaningful attempt at goal as Larsson unleashed a dipping drive from the edge of the box which kept Begovic on his toes but it cleared the bar quite comfortably.

Pennant began to impose his presence on the meeting with his former club with a number of menacing runs down the right and from one of the crosses which aimed at Jones, the big striker rose above his marker to head wide.

There were half-hearted appeals for a penalty when Higginbotham burst into a dangerous position was brought down by Foster's challenge, but referee Clattenburg obviously decided that the defender had lost possession.

City then strung a good move together in which Higginbotham delivered the ball into Jones whose neat lay-off was met by Fuller's powerful drive, but fortunately for Birmingham Dann was on hand to get in an important block.

There was a scare for the Potters in the 21st minute when Gardner broke down a City move and burst forward to strike a low shot which was well saved by Begovic who had to move smartly to his right to keep the effort out.

The Birmingham defence then opened up for Whitehead to burst into a shooting position but his attempt at goal was charged down.

City ended the half with a period of incessant pressure which led to them taking the lead and it all began with them going close from a corner as Jones headed Pennant's kick goalbound and Fuller tried to flick it past Foster.

The goal eventually came in the 44th minutes as Collins played the ball in from the left and Whitehead laid it off to Fuller.

Although the Jamaican's shot was blocked, the ball broke to Huth who lashed it home from 12 yards despite the best efforts of Foster.

City could have stretched their lead before the break as Delap forced an excellent reflex save out of Foster and then Huth charged in to meet Etherington's corner swung in from the right only for it to strike Fuller on the back when it appeared that his close range header was going in. That was the final action of the first half.

There was a similar start to the second period when Huth went forward again to meet an Etherington corner but planted his header wide and the big defender was off target again with a header from Pennant's free kick.

Having had so many chances to add to their lead, it was understandable that City would get a little edgy when Birmingham came back into the game.

Begovic made a fine save diving low to his left when Jerome unleashed a left foot shot and then he pulled off an even better instinctive stop when Johnson met a Larsson corner with a bullet like header from close range.

There was panic in the City defence when Birmingham poured again in search of an equaliser and it took some desperate last-ditch blocks to keep the visitors out.

The Britannia Stadium erupted moments later when City celebrated that let off by bursting forward and grabbing a second goal. It was a wonderful solo effort from Fuller who broke down the right hand side and managed to weave his way into the box before a curling a left foot shot beyond the reach of Foster and into the far corner.

That euphoria soon turned to despair however as Birmingham's improved second half display was rewarded with an immediate response volleyed in by substitute Fahey after Higginbotham had sliced an attempted clearance into danger.

A minute later and the Blues were level as Carr whipped in a free kick from the right and Jerome glanced his header in at the far post.

City could have gone behind in the 80th minute when Collins got caught in possession and Gardner capitalised with a burst forward which ended with him firing a shot at goal that swerved late, but Begovic held on above his head.

Pulis' side looked on edge, but they managed to mount one last assault on the Birmingham goal and when Etherington squared the ball and after Fuller had failed to latch onto it, his cross broke for Whitehead to stab it home from close range.

    Data provided by Press Association


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