ANY NOTION of Stoke City’s 2014/15 campaign fizzling out were well and truly put to bed on Saturday afternoon as Mark Hughes’ side chalked up a record breaking 14th Barclays Premier League victory.
Spurs, perched in sixth and chasing European football next season, were the victims as the Potters produced one of their most polished displays of the season to comfortably dispatch of the North Londoners.
A superbly taken Charlie Adam header, his fourth in six games, gave the hosts a deserved lead midway through the first half before Steven Nzonzi doubled his side’s advantage with a calmly taken effort following a mix-up within the Spurs backline.
Opportunities came and went to put the game to bed with the impressive Marko Arnautovic going close on four separate occasions whilst a sublime Marc Muniesa volley brought the best out of France stopper Hugo Lloris.
The second half was a slightly more timid affair, but that was to be expected given the fact that all of the damage appeared to have been during a tremendous opening 45 minute spell.
A clumsy challenge from Vlad Chiriches saw him receive a second caution early in the second half, and from there on in there was only going to be one side adding to the afternoon’s tally; and it certainly never looked like being Mauricio Pochettino’s side.
As the game drew towards its conclusion, Arnautovic, a constant nuisance to the Spurs rearguard, set off on a trademark run down the left, squared the ball into the path of Mame Diouf, who met the ball with great finesse to round off another historic afternoon for his side.
The three-point haul was enough to elevate the side up and above West Ham United, who lost to Aston Villa, and arguably more intriguingly close the gap on Swansea City, in eighth, to just three points ahead of their Monday evening showdown with Arsenal.
Prior to kick-off Hughes made two changes to his starting eleven, one of which was enforced as Marc Wilson missed out through suspension, whilst the Welshman also opted to drop Phil Bardsley down to the bench.
Their omissions meant recalls for both Muniesa, who partnered skipper Ryan Shawcross in central defence, and United States international Geoff Cameron who slipped back into a familiar right back role at Bardsley’s expense.
Right from the offset you sensed that this was going to be Stoke’s day. They displayed far more aggression that the visitors, plenty more quality and played the game at a far faster pace. At times, Spurs simply couldn’t handle it.
For all of Hughes’ side’s frustrations in recent weeks, claiming just a single league victory in seven, you have to applaud the players for the way they went about their business against a Spurs side that was spearheaded by the man on everybody’s lips at the moment, Harry Kane.
Muniesa let rip a thunderous volley from 25-yards during a dominant opening to the game, and tested the hands of Lloris before Arnautovic twice forced the visitors’ skipper into two smart saves down to his right from distance.
Diouf’s pace was also wreaking havoc to the Tottenham defence, and it was he who played a pivotal role in Adam’s opener, when he burst down the right, delivered a dangerous ball that was glanced into the Scotland international’s path and he flung himself at the loose ball and glanced it into the top corner of the net.
It was no less than the home side deserved!
The game was very nearly back on level terms just 60 seconds later when Muniesa glanced a Christian Eriksen free-kick towards his own goal, but thankfully Jack Butland came to his rescue with a stunning fingertip save to flick it on to the crossbar before the ball was hacked away from danger.
Up at the opposite end of the field Arnautovic again forced Lloris into a good save down to his left, before the ‘keeper, described by many as one of the very best in the top-flight, failed to navigate a routine ball into his box, Eric Dier got in his way, and Nzonzi seized upon the advantage and calmly swept the ball into the far corner of the net.
Butland was enjoying his first league outing on home turf this season, and whilst for long periods he acted as nothing more than an onlooker, he showed his class and concentration to thwart Ryan Mason, who let rip a powerful effort from the edge of the ‘D’.
Either side of the interval Austrian maverick Arnautovic went close with clever strikes that drifted inches wide of the target, before a brief spell of Spurs pressure early in the second half was brought to a halt when Vlad Chiriches saw red for a clumsy challenge on Diouf.
Adam, who narrowly missed out on the Premier League’s April Player of the Month award earlier in the week, was at his brilliant best to beat three men and curl an effort seemingly towards the bottom right hand corner of the net, before Lloris stretched out and finger-tipped the ball around the post.
The Scotland international has earned himself a reputation as one of the best strikers of the ball in the top-flight, but you wouldn’t have believed that when he sliced a long range strike out for a throw-in midway through the second period.
Arnautovic could be forgiven for going for goal when he may have squared to the unmarked Jon Walters in the centre, but despite his best efforts he wasn’t able to get the better of Lloris from an incredibly acute angle.
A clearly frustrated Pochettino thrust Roberto Soldado and Moussa Dembele into the action with 15 minutes remaining, and it had an effect of sorts, as they enjoyed their greatest spell of possession, even if they weren’t able to find a way through a determined and impressive backline.
Peter Odemwingie enjoyed his third run out in as many games, replacing the tireless Walters late on, but it was Diouf who made another telling influence on the game, netting his eleventh of an impressive debut season in the Potteries, after latching on to another delightful Arnautovic centre.
The victory propelled Hughes’ side on to 50 points, the exact same number the Potters finished on last season as they recorded a record ninth place finish in the Premier League.