STOKE CITY’S disappointing run of form continued on Saturday evening as promotion chasing West Bromwich Albion inflicted a third successive defeat upon Nathan Jones’ men.
Dwight Gayle’s first-half header, his third in two games against the Potters this season, proved to be enough to seal the visitors all three points in North Staffordshire.
The encounter could have swung in a different direction had referee Jeremy Simpson spotted a clear handball by Albion midfielder Gareth Barry as he tangled for the ball with home debutant Sam Vokes.
However, he frustratingly missed that infringement and Gayle’s well-taken header proved enough to secure Darren Moore’s men the spoils and maintain their charge towards the top two.
Prior to kick-off, Jones handed home debuts to both of his January acquisitions Danny Batth and Vokes, whilst he also opted to recall Tom Ince and Ryan Woods into the starting line-up as he looked for a response.
The home side were arguably lacking a little confidence having succumbed to successive 2-0 reverses in each of their previous two outings, but actually made the brighter start to the encounter.
Tom Edwards, undoubtedly the home side’s stand-out performer, was a constant nuisance down the right flank with a number of delicious deliveries teasing the Baggies backline.
However, it was at the other end of the field that the deadlock was broken midway through the first 45 minutes, and not for the first time this season, it was a goal that was entirely avoidable.
Stefan Johansen’s diagonal ball forward was sublimely volleyed across the six-yard box by Hegazi, leaving Gayle with the simplest of tasks of heading into an empty net.
Jones’ men rallied and went relatively close with a couple of long range strikes which flew off target, whilst Gayle went close to turning Barry’s centre home in another Albion sweeping attack.
There was a real heart in mouth moment for the former Aston Villa and England ace when he clearly handled the ball inside his own penalty area just before the break, only for the referee to wave play on.
The second half was a largely tame affair, despite Jones thrusting Saido Berahino and Bojan into the fold in a bid to turn the game on its head.
The pair offered glimpses of their quality, but it was Edwards’ endeavour down the right which often presented the hosts with their brighter spells.
That said Tom Ince's barnstorming run forward very nearly reaped the rewards it deserved, having flew past three opponents, before pulling his strike wide of the target.
Welsh international Vokes then headed wide after the impressive Edwards picked him out whilst the same player narrowly failed to make contact with another driven ball across the danger zone.
Jack Butland, a relative bystander throughout the 90 minutes, made his one and only meaningful save late on when he palmed Johansen’s driven strike away from goal.
In the end another frustrating defeat for the home side, although there were undoubtedly reasons for encouragement for the Potters boss.