Stoke City 1-0 Town
Saturday, 23rd Feb 2008 18:19 by 0
Town's two-match away winning run came to an end as Liam Lawrence's fine 25-yard strike gave Stoke a 1-0 victory at the Britannia Stadium. The Blues were the better side before the break but fell away in a second half in which Jim Magilton was sent to the stand.
As expected, Magilton made one change to his starting line-up, Danny Haynes dropping to the bench as Alan Quinn returned on the left of midfield.
Quinn was involved in the game's first penalty area action, whipping in a freekick from the right which flew narrowly beyond Jon Walters at the far post.
On five, Jon Walters was left on the turf after an off the ball clash with former Town loanee Ricardo Fuller as the waited for a Stoke freekick to be sent in from the left. Neither referee Mick Jones nor his linesman had seen the incident.
The Blues were passing the ball around confidently with Velice Sumulikoski and Tommy Miller again combining well in the centre of the midfield.
In the 15th minute Alan Lee was sent sprawling by a challenge inside the area, however, the Town striker had already lost control of the ball, having received it from Alan Quinn who had done well down the left.
Lee had an even better chance in the 22nd minute when Walters played a ball across to him eight yards out from the right of the area. In a swirling wind which would affect the game more and more as the afternoon wore on, Lee failed to get the ball under control and eventually scooped his effort high and wide when he might well have scored.
Town had a scare in the 23rd minute when Mamady Sidibe headed a corner powerfully into the ground and wide of Stephen Bywater's post. A minute later, Glenn Whelan shot straight at the Town keeper from 20 yards.
Just after the half hour mark, Ryan Shawcross put the ball in the Town net but from an offside position, then soon after David Norris had a shot blocked in a promising position on the right of the Stoke box.
The home side were coming more into the game after the Blues had enjoyed much the better of the early stages. The home crowd, strangely subdued for the first half hour, started to make themselves heard with a series of improbable penalty appeals.
Fuller shot over from the edge of the box, prior to Liam Lawrence picking up the game's first yellow card for following through on Dan Harding after the defender had allowed the ball out for a throw-in. The former England U21 international was sent crashing into the advertising hoarding and some referees might not have been as lenient as Mr Jones.
Jon Walters struck a shot on the turn which flew over before the Potters scored the game's only goal. Dan Harding failed to get any distance on a clearance played over the top, succeeding only in finding Lawrence on the Stoke right. The ex-Mansfield man set himself before lashing in a 25-yard shot which flew into the top corner of Stephen Bywater's goal.
The goal was the half's final action and was probably a bit harsh on a Town side which had been the better team for the most part. But despite their possession, not too many serious chances had been created and those that had been were wasted.
Danny Haynes replaced Alan Quinn at left midfield for the second half as Town started the second period strongly. On 48 Alan Lee felt he might have won a penalty when Sidibe appeared to hold him back as he went after a loose ball in the penalty area. Referee Jones inexplicably awarded a Stoke freekick, not the first or the last time that the Blues would suffer from perplexing refereeing.
On 51 Stoke keeper Steve Simonsen failed to hold on to a Danny Haynes cross from the left, but no Town player was on hand to seize on the loose ball.
Six minutes later, Town boss Jim Magilton was sent to the stands after appearing to express his unhappiness at the way the multi-ball system was being employed to the referee. As with a number of other clubs, the ballboys had clearly been instructed to take their time once the home side had gone in front.
Magilton made his complaint to referee Jones, who after an initial discussion walked away from the Town manager, but then returned to continue the conversation and to send Magilton to the stand. As the Blues boss made his way to the tunnel in the corner, a water bottle was thrown from the crowd in his direction.
The game continued with Rory Delap receiving a yellow card for pulling back Alan Lee on halfway. The Blues were making little headway towards grabbing an equaliser with much of the half consisting of the Stoke defence and midfield lumping balls forward for Fuller and Sidibe.
On 62 Tommy Miller made an important saving challenge on Fuller after he had escaped from Richard Naylor on the left, then from the corner the Jamaican sent an overhead kick wide.
In the 65th minute, Danny Haynes, who had by now joined Lee in the attack with Walters moving to the right flank and Norris to the left, hit a weak shot which Simonsen claimed with little problem.
Richard Cresswell went over at the far post after a corner from the right had reached him at the far post, then on 71 Pablo Couñago replaced the quiet Alan Lee.
The Spaniard's first contribution to the game was to create the Blues' best opportunity of the half. Couñago took a ball in to feet and laid it back to Sumulikoski who tried to score a replica of his goal against Blackpool last week, however, on this occasion keeper Steve Simonsen did well to get across to his left to push the ball around the post.
Owen Garvan took over from David Norris, who had required treatment for a knock a few minutes earlier, as the Blues switched to 4-3-3 with Walters and Haynes either side of Couñago.
Sumulikoski saw a shot blocked, then Bruce shot well over but an equaliser was looking unlikely as the game entered its final minutes. On 88 Walters laid the ball back to Garvan 20 yards out, but the Irishman's shot was deflected wide.
That would be as close as the Blues would come to a goal with little in the way of goalmouth action in the four minutes of injury time.
A decent first half performance, followed by a poor second in which Town never really looked like getting back into the game.
Stoke were solid defensively and in Fuller and Sidibe have a testing front pairing, while Lawrence's goal was good enough to win any game.
Even in the first half the Blues never really tested Stoke keeper Simonsen enough, while in the second they failed to impose their football on the home side's more direct approach, much as was the case against Watford with their similar approach at Portman Road recently.
The defeat sees the Blues drop to seventh in the Championship ahead of next week's trip to Southampton.
Town: Bywater, Bruce, Harding, De Vos, Naylor, Sumulikoski, Miller, Norris (Garvan 75), Quinn (Haynes 46), Walters, Lee (Couñago 71). Unused: Colgan, Wright. Att: 23,563.
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