BOJAN’S third goal of the season was enough to inflict a first defeat in ten upon Southampton at St Mary’s on Saturday afternoon and prolong the Potters’ superb run of form.
The Spanish maestro exquisitely tucked home Erik Pieters’ delightful centre in the tenth minute and elevated his side up into the top half of the table.
The margin of victory should have been far greater with the visitors guilty of squandering at least five other guilt-edged chances to have wrapped the three points up.
The home side, who had won their previous three matches, offered little in truth and rarely threatened to extend their good fortunes beyond the international break.
Mark Hughes opted to reward the eleven who performed so heroically during the 1-0 triumph over champions Chelsea two weeks earlier and his decision was justified as they produced arguably their most impressive showing on the road to date.
Marko Arnautovic had a couple of chances to add to his tally for the season either side of the break, but when the chances presented themselves to him he wasn’t quite as emphatic as he would have hoped to have been.
Club record signing Xherdan Shaqiri continued from where he left off in the win over the Blues by producing another impressive outing on the right wing.
His trickery on the ball and pace was a constant nuisance to the Saints rearguard, and had he been able to match that with the undoubted finishing qualities he possesses, he could have notched a brace of his own.
With each opportunity that came and went you sensed that the visitors could come to regret them as the hosts upped the ante following the re-start.
A brief resurgence during the early parts of the second period had Hughes’ troops on the ropes, but they were able to keep themselves disciplined and organised and were able to deny their opponents of any real sight at goal.
Jack Butland enjoyed his first outing as a senior England international at Wembley earlier in the week and he continued to enhance his rapidly growing reputation with more assured keeping between the sticks.
Whilst he was rarely forced into any serious action his awareness, decision-making and distribution were all right on-point.
As the hosts pressed forward in search of wat would have been an undeserved leveller spaces began to open up at the back, and Stoke looked to exploit them at every opportunity.
Substitute Ibrahim Afellay made another telling contribution following his second half introduction and he was incredibly unfortunate not to have notched his first Premier League goal.
The Dutch international was turning in celebration as his strike flew past the helpless Maarten Stekelenburg, only for defender Ryan Bertrand to backtrack and make a crucial goal-saving clearance on the line.
Arnautovic thumped over when he was exquisitely played through on goal by the superb Glen Johnson, whilst Mame Diouf, who was brought on as a late substitute, teed up Afellay after rounding the ‘keeper, but the angle proved too tight for him.
The four minutes of additional time indicated by the fourth official gave the home supporters extended hope of grabbing a point, but when referee Lee Mason waved play on following an unintentional challenge from Philipp Wollscheid on Graziano Pelle they knew it wasn’t going to be their day.
It could very well have been given the other way however, and whilst the Saints will feel aggrieved not to have been given the spot-kick they could have absolutely no qualms with the outcome of the game.
The Potters players, including the colossal captain Ryan Shawcross, joined in the post-match celebrations over in the far corner with the travelling supporters, and deservedly received their adulations on the back of a fifth successive away clean-sheet.