STOKE CITY secured a record ninth placed Premier League finish on the final day of the 2013/14 season as Charlie Adam's late strike sealed a 2-1 victory over West Bromwich Albion.
The Scotsman’s effort three minutes from time ensured a first-ever top half position in the Premier League, whilst Newcastle United’s defeat at Liverpool saw the Potters leapfrog the Magpies in the table.
The win also meant that Mark Hughes’ side set a new points record of 50 in England’s top flight for the first time since returning to play the country’s elite in 2008.
City’s triumph was richly deservedly after dominating for long periods at the Hawthorns but after Gareth McAuley’s own goal had given the away side the lead, Stephane Sessegnon’s effort looked to have claimed a share of the spoils until Adam had the final say with his eighth goal of the season.
Hughes made three changes to his side which triumphed 4-1 over Fulham last weekend as Thomas Sorensen replaced Asmir Begovic who missed out through a toe injury, whilst Ryan Shawcross came in after his one match suspension for Eric Pieters alongside Jonathan Walters who took the place of Oussama Assaidi.
Inside a packed out Hawthorns it was the hosts who made the brighter start to proceedings and almost went ahead as early as the second minute with the game’s first chance as McAuley headed down a corner into the path of Stephane Sessegnon, who poked the ball onto the crossbar before Marc Muniesa headed the rebound away to safety.
Pep Mel’s side continued to apply the pressure as Chris Brunt’s left-wing cross found its way to Sessegnon just inside the area but American international Geoff Cameron was on hand to block the attacker’s shot as it headed towards the corner.
However it wasn’t long before the Potters went about exerting themselves on the opposition and after Walters did well to force Foster into a smart save front an acute angle following hesitation in the Baggies backline, the striker really should have put City ahead when he directed Cameron’s cross off target when unmarked at the far post.
Former Albion favourite Peter Odemwingie was next to try his luck from the right-wing with a rasping ball across the face of goal which Foster did well to thwart, before Hughes’ team deservedly took the lead midway through the first half as their possession passed the eighty per cent mark.
The ball was played slightly behind Arnuatovic but the Austrian maverick superbly dragged it into his path, before pulling it back and taking a wicked deflection off McAuley and fly into Foster’s net.
The groans from the home faithful were becoming louder and louder as the Potters almost made it two minutes later when a delightful passage of play allowed Arnatovic to lay the ball into Stephen Ireland on the edge-of-the-area whose shot was heading towards the top corner before McAuley put his body in the way to deflect it off target.
It took until the final few minutes of the opening period for the home side to find some sort of rhythm but it failed to really trouble City’s defence as Jonas Olsson headed wide at the far stick before Sorensen pushed away James Morrison’s 20-yard effort.
Albion came out after the restart determined to put on more of a show for their supporters and went narrowly close to levelling on 46 minutes as Morgan Amalfitano’s cross from the right almost out-foxed Sorensen but the Denmark stopper pushed the effort over the bar.
Their early exuberance didn’t last though and Arnuatovic forced Foster into a smart from distance before Odemwingie worked space for himself and screwed off target when he should have done better.
City’s wastefulness in front of goal was to prove costly however as 11 minutes into the second period the home side pulled themselves level when Dawson pulled the ball back from the right to leave Sessegnon to place his effort into the bottom corner and leave Sorensen with little chance.
The Potters almost responded from the restart when Arnuatovic saw a curling effort clip the outside of the far post, before Sessegnon planted a free headed into Sorensen’s grateful palms from close range at the other end.
The Baggies then went a whisker away from taking the lead for the first time as the game started to become stretched when Sessegnon flicked the ball over the City defence but Youssouf Mulumbu fired an effort from inside the area which cannoned off the far post and away to safety.
Arnautovic was next to try his luck as he forced Foster into a smart save with a curling effort before West Brom substitute Victor Anichebe turned Muniesa on the edge-of-the-area and blazed over.
It was City’s own sub however who was to have the last say on the final day of the season as Adam drove forward and fired low and hard into Foster’s bottom left-hand corner to send the visiting supporters into raptures.