STOKE CITY recorded a thoroughly deserved 2-0 victory against Sunderland at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday afternoon to end an eight game winless run.
Superb strikes from midfielders Charlie Adam and Steven Nzonzi either side of the interval secured all three points for the Potters, and condemned the Black Cats to a defeat that sent them to the foot of the Premier League table.
The visitors hopes of forging an avenue back into the game were dented following Adam’s first half opener when Wes Brown was dismissed for a later challenge on the Scotland international, whilst Steven Nzonzi ended any faint hopes with a well-taken second late on.
The victory elevates the Potters up three places into 14th position and Sunderland drop to the bottom due to Crystal Palace’s triumph against Hull City at the KC Stadium.
Mark Hughes was forced into one change ahead of kick-off with the news that Stephen Ireland had failed to shrug off a shin injury sustained during training on Friday, whilst he also opted to replace Wilson Palacios with Glenn Whelan at the heart of midfield.
Kenwyne Jones and Marc Wilson were also both absent having picked up injuries during their midweek international exploits, giving the likes of Brek Shea and Marc Muniesa an opportunity to showcase their talents from the bench if called upon.
Unsurprisingly Sunderland boss Gus Poyet named an unchanged eleven for the game, after watching his side claim a potentially season changing 1-0 triumph against title hopefuls Manchester City two weeks earlier.
Scotland international Steven Fletcher, who came up against Geoff Cameron in his country’s goalless draw against the United States on Tuesday, led the frontline, with the likes of Italy’s Emanuelle Giaccherini and Adam Johnson providing the ammunition.
A couple of early Asmir Begovic long punts forward warmed up the supporters inside the stadium on a blisteringly cold afternoon, as they were somewhat optimistically hoping for a repeat of his goal-scoring exploits against Southampton earlier in the month.
The lack of wind inside the arena however, made it far more likely that an initial breakthrough was going have to be forged via a more standard procedure – with Marko Arnautovic and Peter Crouch proving to be the early menaces to the visitors backline.
A spell of early pressure from the Black Cats suggested that it could be them celebrating the initial breakthrough, but thankfully, Stoke’s backline was able to answer the questions being posed of them by a clearly rejuvenated Sunderland side.
At the other end two opportunist Adam free-kicks very nearly caught Vito Mannone napping, whilst a piece of brilliance from Cameron almost culminated in Arnautovic slamming home from 6-yards, but John O’Shea threw his body in front of the ball to block his goal-bound effort.
Begovic displayed his ever-growing credentials between the sticks with a stunning save during a frantic start, after Fletcher burst through on goal in incredibly fortuitous circumstances, as referee Kevin Friend missed a blatant handball from the former Burnley hit-man.
Austrian ace Arnautovic was doing his best to ignite the hosts – with a long-range effort that floated over and a clever piece of trickery inside the box that very nearly found the unmarked Peter Crouch inside the 6-yard box.
As the half wore on you could sense that should a goal be in the offering then it was far more likely to fall the hosts way, as they displayed the more eye catching football, and certainly looked to have more intent moving forward.
Therefore, it came as absolutely no surprise when Adam displayed as much composure as he did at Swansea last time out and rounded off a superb move that involved both Cameron and Nzonzi with an accomplished finish with his left foot from 15-yards.
The visitors hopes of dragging themselves back into the game were given a further blow shortly before the interval as defender Brown was adjudged to have recklessly thrown himself into a challenge with Adam, leaving the referee with no choice but to send the former Manchester United ace off.
The start of the second half heralded a Potters bombardment upon the Black Cats 18-yard box, as wave after wave of attacks penned O’Shea and co firmly inside their own half.
Cameron, who was enjoying arguably his finest outing of the season, produced a series of sensational balls across the 6-yard box, but on each occasion neither Crouch nor Walters were able to make the required contact to breach the goal of Mannone.
An incisive counter-attack should have undoubtedly ended with a second goal of the afternoon for Adam, but after being freed by the impressive Whelan he was unable to hit the target from the edge of the area when he looked destined to double his sides advantage.
With each and every opportunity that was spurned by the Potters you couldn’t help but think that it may come back to haunt them, especially considering the fact that Poyet’s side were growing in confidence following the introduction of Fabio Borini from the bench.
Huth appeared to be struggling at the back, prompting Poyet to replace him with Andy Wilkinson and switch Cameron into a central defensive role alongside skipper Ryan Shawcross.
With the Black Cats enjoying their most productive spell of the afternoon it came as a crushing blow when the hosts doubled their lead, again through some superb interchange through the middle of the pitch.
Whelan and Crouch linked up superbly well to forge a clear sight at goal for Nzonzi, and he sublimely dinked the ball over the ‘keeper and into the far corner of the net to send the majority of supporters inside the stadium into delirium.
There was even time in the dying stages for Wilkinson to surge forward in a bid to notch his first competitive goal for the Club, yet his firm effort was saved well by Mannone down to his right, frustrating both the defender and the City supporters.
Deep into stoppage time Arnautovic was gifted a golden opportunity of grabbing his third goal of the campaign by Crouch, but he was unable to hit the target from 9-yards.