JOE ALLEN’S sixth Premier League goal of the season was enough to claim Mark Hughes’ side a fully deserved victory against Crystal Palace at the bet365 Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Welsh international popped up with the decisive moment of the encounter midway through the second half following tremendous link-up play between Marko Arnautovic and Egyptian international Ramadan.
The three points, and a jump up into ninth place in the league table, was no less than the home side deserved having created by far the more clear-cut opportunities throughout the 90 minutes.
Austrian international Arnautovic, who was named the match sponsor’s man of the match, was first to test the waters of Wayne Hennessey with a thumping strike from 15-yards, only for the stopper to respond with a decent save.
Bruno Martins Indi then went agonisingly close with a thumping header that was superbly hacked off the line by Andros Townsend before Peter Crouch very nearly made it 101 top-flight goals after looking to latch onto a delightful centre.
There were brief moments of anxiety too however, with the pace of Wilfried Zaha a constant nuisance, although Lee Grant was a relative bystander throughout - with his most meaningful action being gathering up a routine save to deny Patrick van Aanholt.
Ramadan, who was handed an immediate recall into the starting 11 after returning from the Africa Cup of Nations earlier in the week, impressed out on the left and very nearly delivered a telling blow to the visitors with an outstanding ball onto the head of Allen, who somehow failed to hit the target.
The visitors rallied somewhat after the break following a relatively lacklustre first-half showing, but they struggled to find any avenues beyond a stubborn and determined Potters backline.
Sam Allardyce introduced Jeffrey Schlupp off the bench as he looked to add a greater cutting edge to his side’s attack, and whilst he was full of desire and tenacity, he rarely managed to get the better of Phil Bardsley or his replacement Glen Johnson.
With the game relatively evenly poised Hughes prepared to introduce Saido Berahino from the bench, but with the former England U21 international stripped down and ready to enter the action, first blood was drawn.
Arnautovic used his strength to hold off the challenge of Joel Ward on the right flank and delivered a sensational angled ball over the top, into the path of Ramadan, he neatly controlled and rolled the ball to Allen, who let rip an inch perfect drive into the far corner of the net.
Allardyce responded by thrusting Yohan Cabaye from the bench, whilst Hughes replaced Charlie Adam with Ibrahim Afellay and the industrious, and impressive Ramadan with Mame Diouf.
As the game entered the final stages the visitors began to throw bodies forward in a desperate attempt to snatch what would have been an undeserved point, but the hosts held firm to secure an important victory.