West Bromwich Albion’s unbeaten run at the beginning of this season is over – and they can have few complaints.
Nick Powell’s goal 11 minutes from time gave Stoke City another, deserved, home win in the Potteries, and in truth over the course of the evening they could’ve had more.
Sam Surridge missed a penalty, missed another gaping chance to boot, a Darnell Furlong own goal was ruled out and both Mario Vrancic and Jacob Brown hit the woodwork. The Baggies, regrettably, offered very little in comparison.
They actually began the brighter. Callum Robinson took a ball on the run under his spell and, having shrugged off the attentions of Joe Allen, he bent a shot over the bar from distance.
Stoke were sluggish in tempo and slack in possession, but they picked up after the first bout of pressure from Albion. The midfield axis of Allen and Vrancic, with Powell operating in front of them, is as strong a midfield dynamic as Albion have come up against this season and their threaded passes into the wide areas for Josh Tymon and Tommy Smith caused problems.
It made the Baggies, who have been so sound defensively of late, look susceptible at the back – never more so than when Jacob Brown was sent through. Conor Townsend slipped, and a gap appeared in the back-line. Brown scampered onto the pass, bore down on goal, beat Johnstone…but clipped the post. Allen drove a follow up shot just wide of goal, too.
That was the first warning sign for Albion, who were struggling to make the ball stick in the form of Jordan Hugill who was sloppy on the ball and who waited for passes to come to him, enabling defenders to cut out the danger.
It was an open first half, frantic and with many a misplaced pass from either side – and many an offside, too.
The second warning sign could scarcely have been more of a wake up call – and it had as much to do with Albion themselves than their hosts. Vrancic was adjudged to have fouled Robinson on the edge of the Albion box, and although Darnell Furlong nodded the loose ball past the onrushing Sam Johnstone and into his own net, referee Tim Robinson – mercifully for Albion – pulled play back and gave them a free kick. Needless to say, Stoke supporters were less than enthused by the decision.
The Potters continued to dominate into the second half. Vrancic clipped a curling free kick onto the bar. As if Stoke couldn’t come any closer, Johnstone stood tall and denied substitute Sam Surridge who had had the ball laid onto him by Tymon.
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Surridge would get an undeniable opportunity to give the hosts the lead – from the spot.
Allen’s cross was turned into danger by Johnstone, and Tymon’s shot was blocked on the line by Ajayi, but Surridge nipped in ahead of the Albion keeper and was upended. Johnstone, though, made a huge save to deny him.
Stoke, as a team, wouldn’t be denied a lead, though, and you couldn’t begrudge them that lead either for their efforts. Townsend’s pass out from the back was cut out, and Powell brought the ball down in space before lifting it over the on-rushing Johnstone.
Calm on the ball with Brown closing him down, and he picked a number of passes and made a number of right calls to rush out and sweep clear the danger – until he and Furlong got in a muddle, but escaped. Error to concede the penalty but fabulous stop. As per, he’ll run out and look to meet danger but Powell beat him to it in that key moment.
A very lucky boy on the stroke of half time that he didn’t hand Stoke a 1-0 lead on a silver platter. Not his most effective showing tonight. Long throws, with Rory Delap watching on, caused one or two concerns but Stoke snuffed it out for the most part.
On a night where Albion collectively looked shakier at the back than usual, Ajayi – who himself is improving weekly at the moment – stood out. He read the danger on so many occasions, stepped out and cut out the threat. Distribution into the channels can improve. Did well to make the goal-line clearance in the build up to the penalty.
Usually the platform for the back-line as the deepest of the five (or the three) but Bartley looked nervy and unsettled by the movement of Brown and Powell and the defence splitting passes in behind to the wing backs.
Costly error from Townsend, who had found Powell to be a handful all night, when his pass out from the back was cut out and, as a result, he was caught out of position.
Plenty of energy down the left but the quality of delivery was lacking here from Reach, and his passes down the line were too often over-hit. Rather regrettably got in a mix up with Townsend as Powell poached the winner.
A struggle for Livermore tonight, against a group of midfielders who are among the best technicians in the league. Couldn’t get to grips with the very good pairing of Allen and Vrancic, and picked up a needless yellow card. Still, could’ve handed Albion the lead if he’d poked home rather than wide.
Applied plenty of pressure in the first half. Was one of the picks of the Albion players in a nitty gritty first half, which was played at a frantic pace and littered with errors. Hobbled off towards the end after picking up a knock.
Began the game sharply, bending a shot over from distance, and he was involved in anything Albion did well in the first half, but he was well and truly an attacking knife blunted in the second half. His heavy pass meant for Furlong at the end summed up Albion’s attacking exploits as a whole.
A quiet night for the forward who couldn’t continue his sizzling form in front of goal here. Tried to impact the game cutting in from the left but to no avail.
Really struggled to impose himself to the Stoke back-line which included the towering Souttar and Ben Wilmot. Passing was poor and his hold-up play was ineffective too often.
Phillips (for Hugill 55) 4
Diangana (for Grant 57) 4
Molumby (for Mowatt 80)
Subs not used: Button, Clarke, Bryan, Kipre
Stoke City: Davies; Chester, Souttar, Wilmot, Smith, Allen, Vrancic (Fletcher 76), Thompson, Tymon, Powell (Doughty 86), Brown (Surridge 57)
Subs not used: Batth, Bursik, Ince, Ostigard
Stoke City – Powell 79; West Bromwich Albion –
The ref: Tim Robinson
Attendance: 22,703 (2,886 away fans)
Up next: Birmingham City (h) – Friday 15 October (8pm kick off)