STOKE CITY’S unbeaten away record came to an end on Saturday as Sunderland ran out undeserved 3-1 winners at the Stadium of Light.
Goals from Connor Wickham and a brace from Steven Fletcher, their first strikes of the season, meant that Charlie Adam’s sweet effort turned out to be little consolation for the Potters.
The defeat was City’s first on their travels since April and Mark Hughes’ charges will be disappointed to have lost their impressive sequence of results after being in charge for long periods in the North East.
The Black Cats’ killer instinct in front of goal proved crucial as they finished off each of their three efforts on target and claimed their first league win of the season at the seventh attempt.
Hughes had made one change to his starting eleven for the trip to Wearside following Monday’s 1-0 victory over Newcastle United with Marko Arnuatovic coming in to replace the injured Mame Diouf in attack.
It was the home side who were quick out of the blocks though as they looked to address a run of six league games without a win and a defeat to the Potters a week earlier in the Capital One Cup, and after applying early pressure Gus Poyet’s side took the lead with relative ease.
After Steven Fletcher collected a short throw-in, the forward raced to the byline before delivering a perfectly weighted cross to the far post where Wickham ghosted in behind former Black Cat Phil Bardsley to head home from close range.
The early setback seemed to spark Hughes’ side into life and Steven Nzonzi wasted a good opportunity a minute after the restart when the Frenchman fired tamely into Vito Mannone’s hands from the edge-of-the-area following Peter Crouch’s flick-on.
City continued to build and deservedly levelled the contest in the 15th minute as a quick throw-in inside the Stoke half was worked forward by Victor Moses before he fed Charlie Adam who moved into the box and drove a low shot through the legs of John O’Shea and into the far corner of Mannone’s goal.
Moses had to be replaced by Oussama Assaidi seconds later after the Nigerian picked up a knock in the build-up to the equaliser and following what was a rather even next quarter-of-an-hour the home side put themselves back in front for the second time.
The Black Cats worked a short corner to Will Buckley who whipped the ball into the six-yard area where Fletcher peeled off the back of Marc Wilson to powerfully head past the helpless Asmir Begovic in the City goal.
Once again, despite the hosts going back ahead it was the Potters who were the better side and Adam forced Mannone to tip over a powerful free-kick from 25 yards, before the Scottish international saw Ryan Shawcross head just off target from his resulting corner when the defender was well placed.
The impressive Crouch then almost laid on a second equaliser following neat approach play through the middle of the park but his clever flick towards Arnautovic was touched away by the desperate stretch of Patrick Van Annholt with the Austrian forward about to pounce from eight yards.
A rare foray forward by the hosts nearly put them into a two goal lead in the 38th minute when Will Buckley’s cross almost crept in under Begovic’s crossbar, but the Bosnian keeper quickly retreated back to his line to tip the ball over.
The Potters continued to look the better side before the interval and could count themselves unlucky not to be back on level terms seconds before the half-time whistle when Crouch struck a sweet trademark volley from 18 yards which Mannone expertly pushed away to safety.
City picked up where they left off after the break, continuing to frustrate their opponents but failing to punish them for sloppy errors as Steven Nzonzi and Bardsley both screwed off target.
Sunderland failed to trouble the away side for long periods and a series of bookings slowed the game down much to the annoyance of the Potters who were desperately searching for a way through the opposition defence for their second goal of the game.
Hughes brought on Bojan and Jonathan Walters for Glenn Whelan and Crouch respectively to try and provide more guile to the attack, but after Mannone got down well to thwart Assaidi’s curling drive, Sunderland grabbed their third of the afternoon when Wickham surged through the Stoke defence before his deflected shot evaded substitute Jack Rodwell but fell to Steven Fletcher who fired in at the far post.
Stoke tried to pull a goal back with Assaidi once more testing the hands of the home keeper but the home side saw out the game to leave the Potters disappointed not to have claimed at least a point on their travels before the international break.