JACK NARDIELLO struck twice in the second-half to give Stoke City’s Under-18s a 3-2 win over Hartlepool in their latest pre-season match at Clayton Wood Training Ground.
The goals, one from the penalty spot, turned the game around after Hartlepool had cancelled out Callum Pilkington’s opener with two strikes of their own soon after the break.
Although results aren’t always paramount in friendlies such as these, Stoke will be happy to have grabbed the win in a contest with opportunities for both teams.
Coach John Perkins continued to experiment with the shape of his side, this time opting for a 4-3-3 system ahead of the 4-4-2 used in the 2-2 midweek draw versus Birmingham City.
Nardiello and Marcel Barrington offered support to central front man Pilkington, while Jake Cook was moved to midfield to partner Kris Scott and Eddy Lecygne.
The visitors went with five men in the middle of the park, and the resulting congestion meant chances were difficult to come by in the first 20 minutes, with Nardiello and Barrington trying gamely with efforts from outside the box but neither troubled the ‘keeper.
Stoke’s passing was slick and eventually they created a clear opening when Nardiello cut the ball back to Scott who found Cook, but his shot from the edge of the area was parried over.
The good football got even better as the half progressed, and eventually the opener came on 37 minutes – the instrumental Scott picked out Barrington on the right-wing, and his cross was perfect for Pilkington to nip in front of the defender and power his header home.
Hartlepool sprung into action after going behind, and had two golden chances to equalise when their forward twice was one-on-one with the City ‘keeper but ultimately failed to find the net.
Only two minutes into the second period, though, and they were level when Stoke failed to clear a corner and the ball was bundled in from six yards.
The visitors showed greater initiative after drawing level, and their forward spurned another chance just prior to Pilkington nodding straight at the ‘keeper after Sam Westley’s pinpoint cross.
On 61 minutes, Hartlepool gained the score-line advantage when a cross from the right was flicked towards the back post and crept into the bottom corner.
Stoke introduced some substitutes to freshen things up, although it was Nardiello who earned the penalty that would lead to the equaliser – the former Leicester City starlet was hauled down in the box before picking himself up to coolly stroke the spot-kick in.
City completed the turnaround eight minutes from time, and it was Nardiello who notched the winner when his left-foot shot nestled into the bottom corner after he cut in from the right flank.
Hartlepool had two set-piece chances towards the end, but Stoke’s back four held firm to cement the win.
Stoke City: Trialist (Trialist 45); Westley (Shields 80), Sanders, Hulme, Taylor; Scott (Makrillos 81), Lecygne, Cook (Trialist 66); Barrington (Alabi 74), Nardiello, Pilkington (Richards 75). +