STOKE CITY kicked off the New Year in perfect fashion as they recorded a comfortable 2-0 victory over Watford at the bet365 Stadium.
Goals from Ryan Shawcross and Peter Crouch either side of the half-time interval were enough to seal maximum points and secure a first league double of the season over the Hornets.
A relatively forgetful first period ended in dramatic fashion as Shawcross expertly volleyed home his first Stoke City goal since January 2015.
Even the break didn’t allow sufficient time for the visitors to recover from that setback, as they made a dreadful start to the second period, shipping in a second just three minutes in.
Crouch, who was rewarded for his goal and assist at Stamford Bridge with another rare outing, showed tremendous composure by flicking home Charlie Adam’s sublime centre from 6-yards to all but put the game beyond Walter Mazzari’s men.
The former England ace should have headed home what would have been a 99th Premier League goal shortly after, but with the goal at his mercy he somehow planted his effort at the feet of teammate Jon Walters.
The Republic of Ireland international himself very nearly benefitted from Crouch’s miss, but his quick reactions were fast enough to beat Heurelho Gomes who kept the scoreline down to two.
The 32-year-old was a constant nuisance to the Watford backline, along with Marko Arnautovic, who was handed a return after serving a three-match ban, and his efforts were very nearly rewarded late in the second half after the home side had managed to weather a brief onslaught.
Walters capitalised on some miscommunication within the visitors’ backline, raced through on goal but then watched on with frustration as Gomes produced an outstanding save to fingertip the ball onto the roof of the net.
Hughes was even afforded the luxury of handing further valuable playing time to Ibrahim Afellay late on, with the Dutch international continuing his comeback from a serious knee injury with a productive 20 minute cameo outing.
The former PSV man very nearly capped off a fine evening for himself and his teammates with a stunning effort from distance that flew inches wide of the upright.
Attentions now turn towards this weekend’s FA Cup showdown with Wolves, where the likes of Xherdan Shaqiri, Bojan and Giannelli Imbula will be eager to showcase their talents and force themselves back into Premier League contention.