STOKE CITY contributed to their own downfall as their 17-match unbeaten home run was brought to an end by European champions Chelsea.
Rafael Benitez’s side were given a helping hand by two unfortunate own goals from Jonathan Walters and made it count in stunning fashion as they struck three times in the space of 11 second half minutes to run out emphatic winners.
The outcome hinged on two moments shortly after the break as referee Andre Marriner initially awarded City a penalty but then changed his mind, before Walters glanced home the second of his own goals from an inswinging Juan Mata corner.
City had more than matched Chelsea in the first half and were a little unfortunate to go in at the break a goal behind as Walters dived to head a menacing cross from Cesar Azpilicueta past his own ‘keeper right on the stroke of the interval.
It was Azpilicueta who thought he had given away a penalty when he sent Matthew Etherington sprawling in the box, but after pointing to the spot, he then awarded a Chelsea free kick because the assistant referee had flagged for offside.
Any hope of a City fightback was then destroyed by the rampant visitors as Frank Lampard and Eden Hazard added further goals after Walters had started it all off by turning the ball into his own net in the 62nd minute from Mata’s corner.
Asmir Begovic pulled off a number of outstanding saves to prevent the defeat being even heavier, but Walters’ unfortunate afternoon ended on another low note when he blasted a penalty over the bar in the final minute of normal time.
With no major injury concerns, Pulis welcomed back a number of key figures who had been rested for the FA Cup tie at Crystal Palace last weekend. The one notable absentee was Owen who had made his first start for the club in that game.
City were almost paid to pay for a mistake by Whelan, as Mata slipped the ball into the path of the advancing Ramires, but Shawcross read the danger well and produced a timely interception when the midfielder was about to pull the trigger.
Although Chelsea threatened on a couple of other occasions, it was the Potters who went desperately close to breaking the deadlock.
The visitors defence was only able to half clear an Adam cross from the right and when Wilkinson scuffed his shot, it broke for Jones in an excellent position with just Cech to beat, but his left foot shot rolled agonisingly wide of the far post.
Encouraged by that opportunity, City gained the upper hand and tested the resilience of the Chelsea defence as Cech was forced to race off his line and head clear when Wilkinson’s ball forward found Etherington bursting down the left.
The Potters forced a succession of corners, one of which was half cleared by Ivanovic under pressure and when Shawcross headed it back to the edge of the six yard box, Nzonzi’s flick on wasn’t powerful enough to trouble Cech.
After a promising period in which City had threatened to get their noses in front, there was a sobering reminder of Chelsea’s attacking potency as Hazard engineered an opening for Lampard who had advanced into the box.
A goal seemed the likely outcome as the England midfielder met Hazard’s flick with a first-time shot, but Begovic saved with an outstretched leg.
Etherington’s energy and drive enabled him to force his way past two Chelsea players on a penetrating run down the left hand side before he found Jones on the edge of the box, who made space to try a shot which was blocked by Ivanovic.
Begovic was then forced to use an outstretched leg once again to keep a low shot from Ba out after the striker had been released by Lampard’s astute pass, but it was another indication of how dangerous Chelsea looked on the counter attack.
City responded with Nzonzi seizing the opportunity to making headway forward before teeing up a chance for Whelan, but although he struck his volley from 20 yards well, it was directed straight at Cech who saved quite comfortably.
The deadlock was broken right on the stroke of half-time and it was Walters who got the goal, only it was at the wrong end for the Potters.
A menacing cross from Lampard skidded off the head of Wilkinson and when Cameron failed to deal with the danger, Hazard released Azpilicueta on the overlap and his cross hoisted to the far post was headed in by Walters under pressure from Mata.
It was a cruel blow at the end of a half in which both sides had carved out some good chances and Begovic had made two crucial saves.
Nevertheless, City came storming out of the blocks at the start of the second half and pushed hard for an equaliser with Nzonzi testing out Cech’s reflexes with powerful drive which the ‘keeper had to turn over the bar at full stretch.
The Potters then thought they had been given the chance to draw level when referee Marriner pointed to the spot after Etherington went down under a challenge from Azpiliucueta, but the assistant was flagging for offside.
It proved to be a turning point as Chelsea then took the game by the scruff of the neck with two goals in quick succession to give them a three goal cushion.
The first of the double strike came from the head of Walters once again as he challenged with Lampard for an inswinging corner from Mata, the ball skidding off the top of the striker’s head and flying past a helpless Begovic.
Moments later, Chelsea were awarded a penalty as Mata burst into the box and went down under a challenge from Huth, although television replays clearly showed that referee Marriner’s decision to point to the spot was a harsh one.
Lampard gratefully accepted the chance to add another goal to his pursuit of a Chelsea record as he slammed the penalty past Begovic.
It could have got a lot worse for the Potters when Lampard found himself in on goal again in the visitors’ next raid, but Begovic excelled himself once again with a reflex save to deny the midfielder from point blank range.
But there was nothing the giant Bosnian could to prevent Chelsea grabbing a fourth when Hazard cut inside from the right to unleash a stunning left foot shot which glanced off the head of Shawcross and flew into the top corner.
City were in danger of being over-run as the Champions of Europe poured forward with a real swagger in their stride and Begovic had to be at his best yet again to prevent them grabbing a fifth and deny the rampant Mata.
Benitez rang the changes as the clock ticked down with Terry making his comeback as one of the substitutions, while Jerome and Whitehead were introduced in place of Jones and Adam even though the game was over as a contest.
The Potters were perhaps relieved that Chelsea were happy to go through the motions in the closing stages rather than push hard for more goals.
City’s sorry afternoon was summed in the final minute of normal time when they were award a penalty after Walters was upended by Terry.
The Republic of Ireland striker picked himself up to take the spot kick but opted to blast it and ballooned his effort high over the bar.