PETER CROUCH fired Stoke City to their first Barclays Premier League victory of the season with a well-taken double to sink Swansea City at the Britannia Stadium . . . and sent a clear message to England manager Roy Hodgson in the process.
The England striker took his tally to five goals in as many games to put City in command in the first half and the outcome rarely looked in doubt after that as Tony Pulis’ side secured a well-deserved triumph to end their long wait for a League win.
Crouch headed home the opener from a Glenn Whelan corner in the twelfth minute and then lashed home his second nine minutes before the break.
Indeed, he could have completed a hat-trick, hitting the bar with another header in the second half as he boosted his chances of an England recall.
The Potters created plenty of other chances to make the margin of victory more comfortable, but they will also be delighted to have kept a clean sheet with goalkeeper Asmir Begovic having precious little to do throughout the ninety minutes.
Swansea began the game in familiar style by stringing the passes together and there was a moment of concern when Begovic mis-kicked a backpass in the windy conditions, but fortunately Shawcross was on hand to complete the clearance.
The first threat from the Potters came when Adam did well on a run down the right hand side and sent over a cross in the direction of Crouch, but despite a lack of height at the back, the Swans were able to deal with the danger on that occasion.
It was clear, however, that City were going to test the visitors out at every available opportunity and there was a promising moment from a long throw delivered by Cameron from which Walters hooked the ball to the edge of the six yard box.
Swansea managed to prevent that opportunity from coming to anything, but the Potters sustained the pressure as Walters, who was operating down the left hand side at this point, cut inside from the left to force a save out of the diving Vorm.
From the corner that resulted though, City went in front in the twelfth minute as Whelan swung the ball in from the left hand side and Crouch had a relatively free header as he planted his close range effort beyond the reach of Swansea’s ‘keeper.
The Potters immediately looked to build upon that and Walters’ astute header picked out Adam bursting through the middle into a good position, but he tried a shot with his weaker right foot and failed to trouble Vorm with his wayward effort.
Swansea hit back and there was an uneasy moment for Adam when he lost possession inside his own area, but Dyer was unable to seize upon the opening, while Kightly gave the ball away to allow Graham to try a shot from long range.
A further sign of the threat which the Swans posed came when a neat lay-off from Michu on the edge of the box saw Graham unleash a first time shot which had Begovic scrambling across his goal only to watch it drift wide of the upright.
Those concerns were eased moments later when Crouch claimed his second goal of the game to give the Potters valuable breathing space.
Another high ball into the box delivered by Kightly found the England striker at the far post who controlled it with his chest and flicked it to Walters.
He then followed up to hook his first shot goalbound and when Vorm pushed that attempt out, he lashed the second one into the back of the net.
There was a scent of a chance for Swansea to pull a goal back as the game went into a minute of injury time at the end of the first half as Michu teed up a shooting opportunity for Britton to lift his well-struck effort over the bar.
The Swans also gained some encouragement from the way in which they began the second half as Begovic was forced into his first real save of the game as he had to react smartly to turn a powerfully struck shot from Sung Yueng over the bar.
The Britannia Stadium crowd roared their approval when referee then showed a yellow card to full-back Davies for what he deemed to be a blatant dive as he burst into the box and went past Kightly who held back holding his arms aloft.
Laudrup made his first change of the afternoon by introducing Routledge in place of Hernandez and the substitute had an immediate impact as he provided the cross from which Graham managed to get in a header that was blocked.
Swansea sustained the pressure and forced two corners in quick succession from which Chico was only inches from getting a decisive touch with his head before Graham at the far post lifted a shot over the bar from close range.
At the other end though, Crouch was only a whisker from completing his hat-trick as he challenged Vorm for a cross sent over by Adam after Huth’s determined run forward to the edge of the box had paved the way for the opportunity.
With the game opening up, there were opportunities for the Potters to wrap the game up with a third goal and Crouch hit the bar with 13 minutes remaining.
Walters started the move by winning possession in the middle of the park before setting Etherington away down the left and he lifted up an inviting cross to the far post where City’s record signing saw his firm header clip the top of the bar.
Etherington produced an electrifying burst down the left which took him past Angel and Chico before his cross was headed wide of the near post by Walters.
Crouch, having tried to meet a Kightly cross with a spectacular scissor kick, then departed to a standing ovation to be replaced by Jones.
And with time running out, it was City who threatened again as Walters advanced forward with Jones in support but saw his shot deflected high and wide as they held on to their two-goal cushion to take all three points.