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16:51 2nd January 2012

Blackburn Rovers 1 Stoke City 2

PETER CROUCH celebrated the perfect start to the New Year by grabbing himself his 100th top flight goal en route to helping his team-mates to a superb victory against Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park.

The England international grabbed himself a clinically taken first half brace to catapult the Potters into a two goal lead, before substitute David Goodwillie ensured a nervy finale for the Potters with a close range effort midway through the second period.

The result cemented Stoke's spot in eighth place in the Barclays Premier League, whilst defeat for Blackburn denied them the chance of climbing out of the bottom three for the first time this season.

Ahead of the game, Tony Pulis was forced into two changes because of injury, whilst he opted to make a further two in a tactical reshuffle following the 2-2 draw with Wigan Athletic 48 hours earlier.

Stoke born defender Andy Wilkinson and Honduras ace Wilson Palacios both failed to shrug off minor knocks in time to feature, meaning their places in the side went to Jonathan Woodgate and Dean Whitehead.

Jermaine Pennant dropped down to the bench to accommodate Ryan Shotton on the right flank, as did Rory Delap, who made way for Glenn Whelan after he overcame an injury which had ruled him out of the last three games.

The City boss was boosted by the news that Jonathan Walters was deemed fit enough to start against his former employers after limping out of the New Year's Eve encounter with what appeared to have been an ankle problem.

It was the aforementioned City striker who cut an imposing figure on the hosts during the initial stages, as his tenacity and work ethic saw him brilliantly free Shotton down the right, only for the youngster to drill an effort across the face of goal - narrowly in front of the awaiting former Ipswich man.

It was the hosts though who came closest to breaking the deadlock in the fifth minute when the towering Chris Samba powered a header against the bar after rising highest to meet Morten Gaamst Pedersen's dangerous centre.

Minutes later Samba did have the ball in the back of the net from an equally as dangerous corner, but thankfully for the visitors referee Lee Mason correctly adjudged Thomas Sorensen to have been impended by Grant Hanley, and ruled the goal out.

Rovers' remarkable 3-2 victory at Old Trafford just two days earlier had undoubtedly breathed fresh life in to them and they continued to dominate the opening stages, with David Dunn warming the hands of Sorensen with a powerful effort from 25-yards.

At the other end, Republic of Ireland international Marc Wilson saw a speculative strike fly inches over Chris Bunn's crossbar, after he did superbly well to cut inside of Jason Lowe on the left hand side of the penalty box.

The momentum began to change as Stoke gradually grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck, by and large down to the dominating Whelan and Whitehead, and set off in search of the opening goal of the afternoon.

The lively Shotton was next to try his luck from range after superbly dispossessing Pedersen in the middle of the pich, but his rasping effort flew just wide of post, much to the delight of the helpless looking Bunn.

It didn't take long for the Rovers backline to be breached however, as some slick interchange between Whelan and Whitehead culminated in the latter delivering a superb ball to Crouch who smartly controlled and emphatically drilled the ball into the back of the net from eight-yards.

The in form City striker was at it again soon after with an ambitious half volley from 30-yards which young Rover stopper Bunn was quickly down to, to palm the goalbound effort away from danger.

His counterpart, Sorensen, displayed his agility at the other end with a superb save to thwart Samba, whilst Crouch came to the Potters' rescue from the resulting corner with an acrobatic clearance just as Yakubu looked ready to pounce.

By this point Stoke appeared to be in full control of proceedings, maintaining possession of the ball superbly well as well as looking extremely threatening when the ball entered the final third.

That said, Steve Kean's side did send a welcome reminder towards the visitors that things wouldn't be going all their own way, with Yakubu and Lowe both going close to levelling matters with half chances inside the penalty area.

Just as the half looked to draw to a close Stoke doubled their advantage with a quite sublime goal which was crafted by the tireless Etherington and brilliantly executed by Crouch, who rifled home his second goal of the game in some style from eight-yards.

He could, and maybe should, have grabbed his hat-trick just five minutes after the interval when Woodgate's deep cross squirmed through to him at the back post, though he wasn't able to adjust himself in time to make proper contact with the ball.

That proved to be the only real goal mouth action up until the hour mark when Blackburn briefly threatened with a Pedersen long throw which caused a minor scramble inside the Potters 6-yard box, before Yakubu fired well over.

Crouch, who looked unplayable throughout, almost capped off a superb free-flowing move with 20 minutes remaining with a wonderful 30-yard strike which just grazed the top of the crossbar to maintain a dominating Stoke performance.

Pulis' side appeared well on course for a fourth Premier League away win, but with twenty minutes remaining the hosts dragged themselves back into contention with their first goal of 2012 courtesy of substitute Goodwillie; who tapped home from four-yards after the City backline had failed to deal with Pedersen's centre.

The City boss responded by introducing Delap and Jerome off of the bench at the expense of Whelan and Etherington in a bid to hold on to the lead.

The changes meant Walters switched to the left of midfield with Jerome partnering Crouch up front.

Rovers huffed and puffed during the final moments, but there was ultimately no way through a stubborn City backline and they held on to kick off 2012 in perfect fashion.

    Data provided by Press Association


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