STOKE CITY produced a tremendous fightback to claim a crucial three points against struggling Swansea City at the bet365 Stadium on Saturday.
Wilfried Bony’s superb second minute opener, his first since scoring in the corresponding fixture over 12 months ago, set the tone for a nervy first 30 minutes for the hosts.
However, talisman Xherdan Shaqiri dragged his side back onto level terms 10 minutes before the interval with an expert finish from 12-yards, after being set free by the impressive Joe Allen.
Just four minutes later the game was turned entirely on its head, as Mame Diouf displayed tremendous composure to rifle the ball home after latching onto a trademark Peter Crouch knockdown inside the penalty area.
The margin of victory arguably should have been greater with both Diouf and Erik Pieters going close to adding to the home side’s tally, although Mark Hughes will undoubtedly take the two which proved enough to secure a first win in five.
The Welshman hinted during the week that he was tempted to shuffle his pack somewhat having taken on Liverpool, on home soil, just three days earlier.
Although few people could have guessed that Jack Butland would be the player making a return to the starting line-up after recovering from a broken finger earlier than anticipated.
His return was the only change to the side that succumbed to a 3-0 defeat against Jurgen Klopp’s men.
Neither side came into the fixture in hugely confident mood, and the home side’s hopes of bouncing back to winning ways suffered a huge blow after just 90 seconds when Bony, who spent last season on loan at the bet365 Stadium, netted his first goal since returning to South Wales.
The Ivory Coast frontman thumped home an effort on the volley in just the second minute to stun the vast majority of supporters inside the stadium.
The goal clearly affected Hughes’ troops, who struggled to fashion any serious opportunities for long parts of the opening period, although that, thankfully, changed shortly after the half hour mark.
The industrious Allen was the architect, picking up a loose ball inside the Swans half, following good pressure from Diouf, and he threaded a delightful ball through to Swiss maestro Shaqiri who finished with real aplomb to level the scoreline.
Back on level pegging the hosts had the wind in their sails, and continued to press forward in search of a second - one that ultimately came just a couple of minutes later courtesy of a superb finish from Senegalese forward Diouf, who returned to a more natural striking role alongside Crouch.
The second half was always likely to see the visitors adopt a more attack-minded approach, as they bid to get back into the encounter, but thankfully they more often than not struggled to forge an avenue beyond a rugged and determined Stoke City backline.
That backline unfortunately had to be reshuffled when Bruno Martins Indi was stretchered off with an apparent groin injury, meaning summer recruit Kevin Wimmer partnered the outstanding Ryan Shawcross in the heart of defence.
It was actually Shawcross who very nearly pulled Paul Clement's men back into the game, as he inadvertently glanced a cross towards goal, which Butland managed to brilliantly fingertip over the bar.
There were late opportunities for the Potters to put the game to bed, with Diouf heading wide from point blank range before Shaqiri miscued with his right peg after substitute Ramadan had picked him out following a driving run forward.
Seven minutes of additional time left the home supporters on edge, but they were ultimately left celebrating a crucial and potentially season-defining victory.