DEAN WHITEHEAD’S first league goal in almost three years was enough to secure the Potters their first away victory of the campaign against high-flying West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns on Saturday afternoon.
The former Sunderland man stepped off the bench to rifle home the decisive goal during the second half of the encounter to maintain a superb run of form for the visitors, which has culminated in the side registering four wins and a draw from their last five games.
Tony Pulis’ side were fully deserving of the victory, having restricted the in-form hosts to just a handful of half chances throughout the afternoon, and will arguably feel aggrieved not to have won by a greater score-line after Kenwyne Jones went agonisingly close with an early header.
Peter Crouch’s failure to recover from a facial injury in time for the game at the Hawthorns meant a first Premier League start of the campaign for Trinidad and Tobago skipper, who again impressed in a lone role up front.
The former Sunderland hit-man spearheaded an otherwise unchanged starting line-up from the one that recorded a splendid 2-1 victory against Newcastle United at the Britannia Stadium just three days earlier.
Wednesday night’s goal-scoring hero Cameron Jerome had looked to be set for a spot amongst the substitutes, however, a pre-match warm up injury meant that he had to be withdrawn from the match-day
squad, with Maurice Edu being named as his late replacement.
Meanwhile, Baggies boss Steve Clarke made six changes to his side having seen them slump to a surprising 3-1 defeat at Swansea in their last league outing.
The former Chelsea and West Ham assistant manager recalled the likes of Shane Long and Goran Popov to his starting eleven, whilst Swedish striker Markus Rosenberg was handed his first Albion start.
A tentative start from both sides ensured a relatively low-key opening 15 minutes, although the game almost burst into life when Jones met a deep Geoff Cameron centre and headed inches wide of the post,
with Boaz Myhill left beaten.
That near miss proved to be the only real opening of the opening half hour, with both sides content to retain possession of the ball in the middle of the park.
Steven Reid attempted an ambitious effort from his own half in a bid to catch Begovic off guard shortly before the break, though thankfully for the visitors the Bosnian was alert and managed to backtrack to
turn the defender’s long range effort over the bar.
The stopper was again called into action soon after to deal with a routine Zoltan Gera centre, whilst he was troubled slightly more by Long, who managed to test him with a header from 8-yards.
Those efforts proves to be the finale to a less than exhilarating opening 45 minutes, but for Pulis, he would undoubtedly be the more pleased of the two managers having seen his side frustrate the Premier
League’s surprise package in their own back yard.
As was the case during the 2-1 victory against Newcastle, the City boss again made tactical changes by introducing both Kightly and Whitehead from the bench at the expense of Etherington and Adam, and for
the second time in a matter of days the switch paid dividends.
Jones’ continued effort and determination led to a poor clearance from Jonas Olsson straight into the path of Kightly, who danced past two defenders and drilled a fizzing ball across goal into the path of
Whitehead and he made no mistake in dispatching the ball into the back of the net from 10-yards.
That strike came after Jones had again gone close after bursting past Olsson, before McAuley spared him his blushes with a superbly timed last ditch challenge, just as the big striker looked to forge a clear
sight of goal.
Scotland star Graham Dorrans forced Begovic into a superb save down to his right as the hosts finally found some rhythm in the game.
On loan Chelsea forward Romelu Lukaku and Peter Odemwingie were both introduced from the bench late on as the hosts looked to find a way back into the encounter, but the visitors held firm and recorded a
seventh clean sheet of the campaign.
The victory, Stoke’s fourth consecutive top-flight win at the Hawthorns, elevated the Potters up into ninth place in the Premier League, one point and one place above Arsenal, who slipped to a 2-0 home defeat against Swansea City.