STOKE CITY began their festive run of fixtures in superb fashion on Boxing Day with a superb 1-0 win against Roberto Martinez’s Everton at Goodison Park.
Bojan’s first half penalty put the Potters in front and Mark Hughes’ side never looked back as they remained resolute to keep the hosts at bay and record their first clean sheet in 12 attempts and third of the season.
The three points almost meant City eclipsed their highest Premier League points return for a calendar year which previously stood at 51, with a one more game of 2014 remaining against West Bromwich Albion in two days’ time.
In wet and winding conditions on Merseyside, it was the Toffees who made the slicker start to proceedings as Kevin Mirallas had an early shout for a penalty rightly waved away by referee Lee Mason when the Belgian international went down easily under minimal contact from Bojan.
A minute later both sets of supporters looked on nervously as Romelu Lukaku and Ryan Shawcross clashed heads in the centre circle following a genuine challenge for the ball, with the latter coming off worse with a big cut above his left eye but nothing to stop the captain from continuing, following lengthy treatment and the addition of a heavily strapped bandage.
With the home support growing increasingly frustrated at the stop—start nature of the contest, the visitors could and really should have opened the scoring in the 11th minute.
Glenn Whelan superbly won the ball on the halfway line from John Stones before Bojan picked up the ball and played in Mame Diouf, whose first effort was blocked by the desperate challenge of Phil Jagielka and then the rebound comfortably gathered by Tim Howard from 14 yards.
Hughes’ side continued to press and went narrowly close to going ahead once again when Bojan failed to reach Cameron’s fabulous centre from the right before the little Spaniard curled wide from the edge of the area moments later with the Potters pressing high up the pitch.
After a succession of stoppages due to injuries sustained by both sets of players, City lost their momentum and the pendulum swung in the favour of the hosts.
Mirallas saw a shot deflected just wide, before Marc Muniesa did just enough to put off Garth Barry at the far post from the resulting corner when the former England international looked set to pounce.
With pressure growing on the Potters backline, Jonathan Walters was forced into desperate measures in the 36th minute when Leighton Baines looked set to surge towards the area but the Irishman tripped the full back who picked up a yellow card for his troubles.
Despite their best period of the first half, Martinez’s side were unable to find a way through and a minute later Bojan put City ahead.
The former Barcelona star ran the length of the opposition half before being clumsily tripped inside the area by James MaCarthy to leave the forward with the chance grab his third goal in red and white stripes with a cool penalty into the bottom left corner and out of the reach of Howard’s despairing dive.
The opener sparked an almost immediate response from the home side when Asmir Begovic was almost made to pay for dropping a simple catch and turning it away for a corner.
Baines’ resulting set piece was pushed into Steven Naismith’s path and the Scottish international saw his looping header cleared off the line by Steven Nzonzi under heavy pressure.
The indication of 10 additional minutes by the fourth official at the end of the half gave the two sides a genuine opportunity to grab a goal before the interval and both had good chances to add to the scoreline.
Good work down the City left allowed Arnautovic to fizz in a low cross from the left which was too hot for Diouf to control as he diverted wide from close range, before sloppy defending almost allowed the Blues to equalise but Mirallas dragged his shot wide with a clear sight of goal.
Martinez decided to make two changes for the start of the second period as the Spaniard’s side went in search of a route back into the feisty contest with Joel Robles and Antolin Alcaraz replacing Howard and Jagielka respectively.
The home team’s response to the changes wasn’t immediate however and it took until the 63rd minute before they forced Begovic into any sort of action when the Bosnian easily collected Lakaku’s 20-yard effort.
City’s ‘keeper was troubled seconds later though as he reacted brilliantly to turn away Baines’ ferocious 20-yard drive away from goal before it was hacked away to relative safety.
Hughes introduced Charlie Adam for Bojan as City looked to find a second, however it was fellow midfielder Nzonzi who was the one who almost doubled the lead, but the Frenchman dragged his effort from the edge-of-the-area wide of the target following a surge forward.
The expected onslaught from the home side in the closing 10 minutes never really materialised with Begovic expectantly saving Lakaku’s long range effort before Pieters made a vital last-ditch challenge in the closing stages on Naismith.
The Potters ultimately saw out the remaining time on the clock to secure the three points following a truly professional performance by Hughes’ men which also earned them only their second Boxing Day away win in eight attempts.