CHARLIE ADAM stepped off the bench and inspired the Potters to a first ever Barclays Premier League victory over European-chasing Southampton on Saturday afternoon.
The half-time introduction of the Scotland international coincided with a far brighter second half showing from the Potters, who were trailing at the break to Morgan Schneiderlin’s close range effort.
Steven Nzonzi had already spurned a glorious opportunity to draw his side level from three-yards, before Mame Diouf emphatically thumped home his tenth goal of the campaign to peg back the Saints just 90 seconds after the break.
Both sides had opportunities to claim maximum spoils during a frantic second period, but it was ultimately the home side who prevailed victorious six minutes from full-time.
Adam, who scored a stunning goal at Chelsea two weeks earlier, was on hand once more to net for his side but this time it proved to be a far more valuable effort as it claimed maximum spoils and elevated the Potters up into ninth place.
The absence of Adam from the starting eleven was part of three changes made to the starting line-up by former Saints striker Mark Hughes.
The Welshman opted to start with Stephen Ireland at the expense of the former Blackpool midfielder, whilst he also handed recalls to Senegalese international Diouf and Dutch defender Erik Pieters.
One of those switches was enforced upon him with Diouf lining up instead of Victor Moses, after he returned back to his parent club Chelsea earlier in the week having sustained a knee injury against West Ham United.
In stark contrast to this fixture in 2013/14, the opening seconds and minutes passed with no real effort worthy of mentioning, although it wasn’t long until the action was in full flow.
Ronald Koeman harbours ambitions of seeing his side participate in continental competition next season, whether that be in the Champions League or the Europa League.
Victory at the Britannia Stadium was a must if they were to seriously challenge for one of those coveted top four spots, especially with three of them seemingly already taken up by Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United.
Their ambitions were obvious during the initial exchanges as they pressed forward in search of what Hughes has often described as a pivotal opening goal of the game; Shawcross and co, however, stood firm.
Even when they were breached, which was incredibly rare, Asmir Begovic was on hand to comfortably gather long-range efforts from Dusan Tadic and Pelle.
There was a brief moment of worry when Italian international Pelle hammered an effort into the side-netting after latching on to a clever through ball, with half of the stadium thinking the ball had hit the inside of the net rather than the outside.
At the other end, Diouf looped a header over the bar after meeting Arnautovic’s centre, moments before Shawcross was aggrieved not to have hit the target from a similar position.
Just as Stoke were gaining a real foothold on proceedings, disaster struck as the visitors took the lead from a 22nd minute set-piece.
An in-swinging ball was met by the head of Jose Fonte, and was seemingly drifting into the far corner of the net anyway, before Schneiderlin made sure by finish off the job from a yard out to send the travelling supporters into raptures.
One could have been two when the pacy and lively Nathaniel Clyne steamrolled his way past two Potters players before lashing an effort high and wide of Begovic’s upright.
Hughes’ troops had seemingly lose their composure, and just when it seemed the half-time interval couldn’t come quick enough, almost out of nowhere, the hosts were presented with a glorious opportunity of levelling the encounter.
An Arnautovic free-kick was dinked forward by American Geoff Cameron and straight into the path of the oncoming Nzonzi, who with the goal-gaping, somehow managed to mistime his volley and slice it horribly wide.
Given how Stoke petered out of the game following Scheiderlin’s opener, it was no surprise to see Hughes respond by making a change during the break.
Not that Ireland had done much wrong during his 45-minute cameo, but he was the man to make way for Adam, who to be fair, did add a bit more tenacity and urgency to the side.
Barely 90 seconds had elapsed at the start of the second half when Nzonzi had made amends for his earlier miss, striking the upright from distance, and thus allowing Diouf to storm in and lash home the rebound to tie the game up.
The goal breathed fresh life into the supporters, but more importantly the players, who in turn soon began to take the game to the visitors, who had previously been allowed to dictate the tempo of the game.
All of a sudden Stoke had a spring in their step, and when Arnautovic set-off on one of his trademark dazzling runs down the left, you wondered whether it would culminate in a second goal in as many minutes.
Sadly, his pin-point delivery to Nzonzi was met by half-heartedness from the Frenchman, who got caught in two minds whether to lash a volley at goal or attempt to lay the ball on to the well positioned Jon Walters.
Adam then lofted a long range strike well over the bar from distance as he looked to turn the screw into the struggling Saints, whilst at the other end Sadio Mane failed to trouble Begovic when he was freed down the left.
There was an almighty let-off for the home side when Begovic misread the situation and allowed Mane to square the ball across the penalty box to the unmarked Steven Davies, but thankfully Glenn Whelan was positioned perfectly on the line to hack the midfielder’s effort away from danger.
That proved to be the only real scare for the hosts in the second half, and for a brief period the game had looked like it would end in stalemate.
That was until Hughes made a clever late double change, introducing Peter Crouch and Steve Sidwell from the bench at the expense of the impressive, but tiring, Diouf and Republic of Ireland midfielder Whelan.
As the seconds and minutes ticked down, you sensed that there would be one final chance for somebody on the pitch to make a name for himself, and as has proven to be the case on numerous occasions in the past, that man was Adam!
The rugged attacking midfielder reacted quickest inside the penalty area and superbly controlled the bouncing ball, before hammering a superb effort into the ground and beyond the outstretched Kelvin Davis.
There were even chances to kill the game off in the final stages, none more so than when Walters teed up the unmarked Crouch inside the penalty area, but he slipped the ball wide of the post, when he really should have hit the target.
Still, Adam’s effort six minutes from time proved to be enough to claim a 13th league victory of the term – equalling the Club’s most in Barclays Premier League history.