Stoke City 1 West Bromwich Albion 0
“You can’t have enjoyed watching it and I certainly didn’t enjoy a dross game of football.”
Tony Mowbray’s assessment of this clash of the Premier League new boys was blunt but it was accurate.
It has been 26 years since West Bromwich Albion have tasted success in Stoke on Trent and they will have to wait another year at least to break that curse – if the two sides are still in the same division that is.
At the moment, the Potters have made a better start than the Championship champions, due predominantly to their excellent home form. The Potters have only been beaten twice at the Britannia Stadium this season. The likes of Arsenal, Aston Villa, Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland have all come away battered and bruised from the Premier League’s most inhospitable ground.
Now Albion can add their name to that list, although their defeat did not come as a surprise to the Stoke supporters who sang, ‘we always beat West Brom’ at the final whistle. In recent years they have.
In contrast, Albion have now picked up just one point from their last seven games and the goals have also dried up for last season’s top scorers. They drew a third consecutive blank, although Filipe Teixeira should have done better with their best opportunity a minute before Mamady Sidibe headed home the winner in the 84th minute. It isn’t hard to see why Stoke have been so successful on home soil. They work hard, close sides down quickly and pump the ball into the box at every opportunity. They have also shrunk the size of the pitch to help stop more constructive sides from finding space, and help Rory Delap’s howitzer-style long throws, which have led to seven goals this season. It isn’t pretty but it is effective.
Albion stood up to the aerial bombardment better than they had done in previous seasons, with Jonas Olsson in particular looking strong at centre-back, but then Sidibe rose to meet Danny Higginbotham’s left-wing cross with six minutes remaining and the fixture had a familiar outcome.
Stoke’s success must grate on Mowbray, who could not hide his disdain for sides who play such percentage football.
When asked about facing ‘battling’ sides like Stoke, he said: “You were the one who described Stoke as a battling side, not me.”
However, he added: “You know you have to come here and be physically ready for them. I thought we did that admirably today but sometimes it makes for a less enjoyable football match and less of a spectacle.
“All that matters in the eye of some is the result. You know my philosophy and my beliefs, I like to entertain supporters who pay hard-earned money to come and watch football and yet that was very difficult to do today.”
It might have made for an awful game but the Stoke fans certainly did seem to enjoy it. In the Premier League, the result is all important and given a choice of losing in style or winning ugly, the Potters supporters have chosen the latter.
The question is can Albion find the formula to win enough games in style to stay in the Premier League?
Scorer: Sidibe (84).
STOKE CITY (4-4-2): Sorensen, Griffin, Abdoulaye Faye, Shawcross (Cort ,81), Higginbotham, Soares (Tonge, 65), Amdy Faye, Diao, Delap, Sidibe, Kitson (Cresswell, 11). Subs: Simonsen, Olofinjana, Whelan. Wilkinson.
WEST BROMWICH ALBION (4-5-1): Carson, Zuiverloon, Meite, Olsson, Robinson, Koren, Valero (Bednar, 86), Kim (Teixeira, 58), Greening, Brunt, Miller. Subs: Kiely, Cech, Barnett, Moore, Donk.
Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire)
Booking: Stoke – Tonge (foul).
Albion man of the match: Jonas Olsson – stood firm under the aerial bombardment.