PHILADELPHIA UNION 0
STOKE CITY 2 (Kightly 4, Shea 19)
STOKE CITY rounded off their pre-season tour of the United States with a thoroughly deserved 2-0 victory against Philadelphia Union on Tuesday evening . . . however, the game was overshadowed somewhat by an injury to American star Brek Shea.
The United States international, who received a rapturous round of applause prior to kick-off from the home supporters, impressed in his first outing under new manager Mark Hughes, helping to assist Michael Kightly’s thunderous opener before scoring a second with a delicate finish from close range.
His evening was unfortunately ended prematurely though, when a rash challenge from Union midfielder Matt Kassel left the Texan with what initially appears to be medial ligament damage to his left knee.
Prior to kick-off Mark Hughes made seven changes to his starting line-up from the team which beat FC Dallas by a goal to nil in Texas on Saturday with Shea one of the new inclusions in the team along with Marc Muniesa and Ryan Shotton.
The picturesque setting of the stadium right on the banks of the Delaware River provided the perfect backdrop for what was an equally as breathtaking start from the Potters as they brought the curtain down on their nine day stay in the US in superb fashion.
Barely five minutes had elapsed by the time that Kightly marched in at the back-post and hammered a stunning volley beyond the outstretched fingertips of former Eintracht Frankfurt ‘keeper Oka Nikolov, to open the scoring for the evening following a superb ball across from Marc Muniesa.
Stoke continued to flex their muscle and outclass their MLS opposition with Kightly and the returning Shea in-particular proving to be a real nuisance to the Union rearguard.
It was that exact pairing that doubled the visitors advantage 19 minutes in as Kightly skilfully paraded down the left flank, before dinking a delightful ball straight into the path of the flamboyant Shea who diverted the ball into the roof of the net.
Unfortunately and undoubtedly prematurely, that proved to be Shea’s final incident of the game as a late and unnecessary challenge from Matt Kassel left the winger in a heap out on the left hand side of the field. Dutch international Erik Pieters was eventually brought on as his replacement.
Somewhat surprisingly Kassel was then subject to booing from supporters of the Union, clearly unimpressed at his rash challenge that ended the game for a player that recently scored the winning goal for the US in the Gold Cup Final against Panama.
The Potters continued to be the brighter of the two teams with Steven Nzonzi bursting forward and clipping a 20-yard effort straight into the palms of the Philadelphia stopper, who was by far the busiest home player on show.
On the odd occasion that the home side did manage to forge any half opportunity they were never able to test Sorensen, who remained by large a spectator for the first half as his defenders put in an impressive shift to thwart the Pennsylvanian side.
As the half drew to a conclusion both Cameron Jerome and Kightly went close to scoring a third goal for Hughes’ side, but on each occasion Nikolov came to the rescue for the hosts.
The interval brought with it four further changes for the Potters with Peter Crouch, Kenwyne Jones, Charlie Adam and Jack Butland entering the fray, at the expense of Jerome, Kightly, Glenn Whelan and Sorensen.
Meanwhile, the hosts made ten changes to their side with manager John Hackworth making full use of the unlimited substitution rule to hand valuable playing time to all of his playing staff available to him.
Whilst the majority of players brought on had recently featured for the Union in Sunday’s MLS Eastern Conference clash in Vancouver, they showed no sign of fatigue as they looked far livelier than the eleven which started the game.
A series of long throw-ins, impressive but not quite Delap-esque, caused a few moments of panic amongst an unusually stuttering City backline, but on each occasion no home player was able to latch onto the looping ball into the box.
The more experienced eleven were undoubtedly providing the visitors with a far sterner test in the second period, but to their credit Stoke showed no signs of allowing the home side back into the game as they continued to carve out opportunities.
A darting run from Pieters culminated in the recently introduced Matthew Etherington picking out Crouch with a peach of a ball across goal, but the former England international was unable to tap the ball into an empty net from 5-yards. Thankfully for the striker, the linesman raised his flag for offside to spare him his blushes.
Honduran international Palacios shone for a second successive game for the visitors as he impressed with his work rate, determination and ball retention, whilst Jones and Crouch’s untested partnership up top showed signs of excitement as they linked up well.
An outrageous Crouch drag-back and flick freed Jones through on goal midway through the second half, and whilst the ‘keeper managed to deny the big Trinidadian, the home supporters appeared to be more impressed with the majestic touch from Crouch rather than Nikolov’s superb save.
That proved to be the final action of the tour for the Potters, who recorded a second successive victory in difficult conditions.
PHILADELPHIA UNION (First Half): Nikolov, Kassel, Albright, Wheeler, Fabinho, Lahoud, Kleberson, Torres, Anding, Fernandes, Hoppenhot.
PHILADELPHIA UNION (Second Half): Konopka, Williams, Okugo, Parke, Gaools, Le Toux, Farfan, Daniel, Cruz, Casey, Carroll.
STOKE CITY: Sorensen (Butland 46); Shotton (Cameron 68), Shawcross (Walters 68), Huth, Muniesa (Etherington 68); Kightly (Jones 46), Wilson (Cuvelier 89), Nzonzi (Palacios 43), Whelan (Adam 46), Shea (Pieters 33); Jerome (Crouch 46).