Stoke City 3
Carew 32, Huth 83, 90+3
Richardson 2, Gyan 47
Stoke’s courage and commitment counted much more than Sunderland’s class at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday. 2-1 down with seven minutes remaining Tony Pulis’s side captured all three points courtesy of two Robert Huth goals. There was a touch of fortune about the first, with John Carew appearing to flick Jermaine Pennant’s superbly curled free kick on with his outstretched arm.
Not so with the second, Huth ramming another Pennant free kick under the body of Sunderland’s hapless keeper Craig Gordon. Scotland’s number one had a nightmare, constantly failing to show enough body strength or punching power when repeatedly put under pressure from the long throw-ins of Rory Delap or Pennant and Matthew Etherington’s crosses and corners. Not that he should have been beaten for City’s first equaliser on 32 minutes, as Carew was half a yard behind him when he hooked the ball home from an offside position.
Sunderland had taken the lead on two minutes. Phil Bardsley’s ball into the box was badly controlled by Asamoah Gyan but Kieran Richardson following up made Stoke’s hesitant defence pay by lashing home for his fourth goal in three games. The home might have equalised six minutes later but Huth’s shot was well blocked by Gordon with the Stoke defender firing the rebound over. The home crowd, who despite the excitement were largely silent until the final few minutes of the match, then thought they had equalised but Danny Higginbotham’s shot had hit the side-netting.
Within two minutes of restarting after the interval Sunderland were again back in the lead when new boy Sulley Muntari’s long ball saw Gyan outmuscle Huth before turning inside to bury the ball past Asmir Begovic. Aston Villa recently paid £24 million to sign Darren Bent from the Wearsiders whilst Liverpool have just paid £35 million for Andy Carroll. Gyan is better than both and with Sunderland dominating possession for the next 20 minutes it was difficult not to sympathise with the Ghanaian’s obvious frustration at the inability of his sides midfield players to provide at least one decent chance that would surely have seen him wrap up the match.
Sensing their opportunity Stoke, helped by Bruce’s failure to see that Muntari was clearly struggling with his fitness, wrestled their way back into the match to earn a victory that moved them into the top half of the Premier League. For Sunderland it was the end of a week in which they had played two fine games, but by conceding seven goals they failed to collect even a point.