Stoke City 1 West Bromwich Albion 0
Having launched his Hawthorns stint in true fairytale style, West Bromwich Albion manager Tony Mowbray's reign is slowly beginning to turn into something of a nightmare.
It was not so much the scoreline which alarmed the club's travelling supporters as they trooped away from the Britannia Stadium, but the manner in which their side tamely slipped to a third defeat in four games.
This is the fifth time Mowbray has lost in eight games since arriving at The Hawthorns. Norwich, Derby, Birmingham and Arsenal have all emerged triumphant in recent weeks yet Saturday's abject surrender was by far the worst performance under Mowbray's command.
It certainly was not the way he intended to celebrate the week of his 43rd birthday as fast-improving Stoke leapfrogged his side into sixth spot.
All of a sudden the euphoria and excitement which greeted last month's handsome victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers, Mowbray's first match in charge, has evaporated and been replaced by mutterings of concern.
Where is the energy, determination, sharpness and creativity? There was certainly no sign of any of those key ingredients in Staffordshire as Albion hoisted the white flag without putting up a fight.
Albion had arrived in Stoke with promotion high on the agenda having put a quartet of disappointing defeat behind them with a convincing home victory over Burnley seven days earlier.
They left wondering where their next point might come from. Don't bank on Hillsborough tomorrow. Mowbray is still awaiting his first point on the road and by the time Derby County ride into town on Saturday, Albion could find themselves in mid-table below Wolves.
Albion have not won in Stoke for 24 years. They rarely looked like ending that sorry run once Danny Higginbotham had fired the hosts ahead from the penalty spot after Darel Russell was grounded by a tangle of legs as Chris Perry, Martin Albrechtsen and Paul Robinson desperately tried to clear another dangerous Stoke attack.
Mowbray had cause to be unhappy at the interval. Despite boasting an enviable strikeforce, West Brom had just one attempt on goal, Kevin Phillips heading Jonathan Greening's cross over the bar.
In contrast, Russell Hoult in the Albion goal was kept busy by a Stoke team boasting three Premiership loan signings in the shape of Aston Villa's Lee Hendrie, Liverpool's Salif Diao and Andy Griffin of Portsmouth.
Long after Albion had given up the chase, Hendrie was joined by his Villa team-mate Patrik Berger midway through the second-half as Stoke finished the stronger side.
Hendrie emerged triumphant from his midfield battle with Nigel Quashie while the cool and composed Diao was nearly always at the centre of the home side's best moves. Quashie was by no means alone in producing a below-par display.
Jason Koumas and Greening failed to supply enough ammunition to the front two while Diomansy Kamara, who has been in fine goalscoring form this season, rarely looked like adding to his eight-goal tally as the Stoke defence, which has now gone more than six hours without conceding, enjoyed one of its quietest tests of the season.
Albion improved once Zoltan Gera — who surprisingly started on the substitutes bench — was introduced midway through the second half with Koumas and Phillips both testing goalkeeper Steve Simonsen.
Yet it was Gera who wasted the best chance to salvage what would have been an undeserved point. Set up by Kamara's cross, the unmarked Hungarian headed the ball tamely at Simonsen.
With that chance went Albion's hopes of remaining in the top six.
"In the second half we had more of a go at it and our play was fine," added Mowbray. "But we lost it in the first 45 minutes when we never really forced the game."
Stoke might have won by a bigger margin had Hoult not kept out the busy Hendrie, who left the Britannia Stadium clutching the sponsor’s man-of-the-match bottle of champagne.
Hendrie might not be good enough for Villa at the moment, but he has demonstrated over the last two months that he is still a quality player. That might be something worth bearing in mind for Mowbray when he looks to improve his squad in the January transfer window.
West Bromwich Albion boast one of the best squads outside the Premiership yet it is clear the manager has some tough decisions to make. Scorer: Higginbotham (40, pen) 1-0.
STOKE: Simonsen; Hoefkens, Duberry, Higginbotham, Griffin; Lawrence, Russell, Diao, Hendrie (Hill, 89 mins); Sidibe, Pericard (Berger, 67 mins). Substitutes not used: Bangoura, Sweeney, Buxton.
WEST BROM: Hoult; Albrechtsen (Gera, 63 mins), Perry, C Davies, Robinson; Koumas, Carter, Quashie, Greening, Phillips, Kamara (Ellington, 77 mins). Substitutes not used: Steele, Watson, McShane. Booked: Greening, Phillips.
Referee: M Thorpe (Suffolk)