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21:19 7th April 2012

Crouch Crowns City Comeback

A STERLING Stoke City comeback ensured a thoroughly-deserved victory against relegation-threatened Wolverhampton Wanderers in front of the live television cameras.

The win, which was secured thanks to a splendid Peter Crouch header, means the Potters have elevated themselves up into eleventh place in the Premier League - breaking through the much talked about '40-point' barrier in the process.

In identical circumstances to the reverse fixture at Molineux back in December, Wolves found the initial breakthrough thanks to a freak Michael Kighlty goal, but as proved to be the case in the Black Country, goals from Robert Huth and England star Crouch ensured it was Tony Pulis' side celebrating come the final whistle.

Ahead of the encounter, Pulis was boosted by the fact that both his wingers were fit to take their places in the starting line-up, but Andy Wilkinson had not recovered from a groin problem.

Wolves must have gained some encouragement before the kick-off with Bolton, Blackburn and Wigan all losing in the earlier games, but they were fortunate not to concede a penalty inside the first couple of minutes of the game.

The Potters were awarded their first corner of the game which was swung into the box by Etherington and when it carried through to Jon Walters at the far post, he appeared to be brought down by a challenge from Henry coming in from behind.

Walters then sensed an opportunity to try his luck from long range when Crouch's flick-on sat up kindly for him, but although Wayne Hennessey was well off his line, his dipping volley wasn't accurate enough to cause the 'keeper any great alarm.

Not surprisingly, Wolves were looking to the in-form Matt Jarvis to make headway down the left hand side and when he earned them a corner, it was played short to Kightly who set up Stephen Ward some 20 yards out and he fired his left foot shot well over the bar.

The game had largely been uneventful as it approached the midway point, but a neat link-up between Marc Wilson and Etherington created some excitement.

It was Wilson's instinctive ball down the left which released Etherington, who outpaced Ronald Zubar, and his low cross was deflected behind with Crouch trying to get a touch to it.

City should have taken the lead moments later and again Wilson at the centre of it with a ball into the box which was headed down by Crouch and with the goal gaping, Walters stooped forward to get his head to it but it flew wide of the far post.

The Potters were made to pay dearly for that miss when Wolves took the lead in the 27th minute in rather bizarre fashion against the run of play.

Kightly embarked upon a run from wide on the right and when he chipped the ball into the onrushing Dave Edwards, the Welsh international midfielder's attempt to get a touch deceived Asmir Begovic as it bounced past him into the net.

City attempted to hit back straight away and when Ryan Shotton launched a long throw-in into the box, Huth headed goalwards only for Karl Henry to block it.

It was, however, Huth who grabbed the equaliser seven minutes before half time after a clash between Kightly and Etherington which earned both players yellow cards.

The resulting free kick for City was only half cleared and when Shawcross chested the high ball into the box, Huth lashed it home, his shot going between Hennessey's legs.

Shawcross was in the thick of things again two minutes later when a goalmouth scramble which stemmed from Pennant's ball whipped into the box saw the City captain attempt to chip the ball goalbound only for a relieved Hennessey to grasp it.

In the closing stages of the half, Walters went close to grabbing a second for City as he laid the ball off to Etherington and then raced into the box to meet the winger's cross with a firm header that was directed straight at Hennessey.

Wolves switched their wingers during the half-time break and both Kightly and Jarvis caused the City defence problems after the break.

The visitors were only inches away from going back in front when Kightly delivered a free kick to the edge of the six-yard box and Bassong's glancing header flashed past the upright with Begovic still rooted to the spot on his line.

Another free kick was awarded just outside the box when Kightly was brought down in full flight, but Fletcher's chip round the wall was a tame one easily saved by Begovic.

After Wolves had made a bright start to the second half, they were stung by a second Potters goal on the hour mark as Crouch was on the mark again.

City were awarded a free kick for a foul by Ward which was whipped into the box by Pennant and the big striker rose to plant his powerful header beyond the despairing dive of Hennessey as it flew into the far corner of the net.

The visitors must have thought they would get themselves back on level terms when Kightly wriggled his way into the box and squared across the edge of the six yard box, but Shotton got a vital touch to prevent Jarvis from tucking it away.

Pulis made his first change of the afternoon when he brought on Jerome to replace Etherington, meaning that Walters switched to the left.

When Pennant drifted over to the left hand side, he showed great composure in finding the time and space to send over a cross which picked out Crouch and his glancing header drifted wide with Jerome trying in vain to latch onto it.

There was another anxious moment when Kightly cut inside from the right and attempted to curl a left foot shot towards the top corner, but Whelan got his head to it to deflect it behind for a corner which was then cleared by the City defence.

Wolves continued to huff and puff as they battled to rescue something from the encounter, however Stoke managed to hold on to record a deserved victory, and all but signal the end of Wolves' stay in the top flight.

    Data provided by Press Association


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