Saturday 27 May 2017

James Morrison on target for Europa League-chasing West Brom against Stoke

James Morrison earned West Brom victory
James Morrison earned West Brom victory

West Brom maintained their push for the Europa League as they beat Stoke 1-0 on Saido Berahino's return to The Hawthorns.

James Morrison's third goal in five Premier League games earned the Baggies a deserved victory to leave them eighth in the top flight.

Joe Allen and Erik Pieters missed fine chances for Stoke but they lost the game following an insipid first-half performance.

Berahino was introduced as a second-half substitute, making a quick return to The Hawthorns following his £12million transfer last month.

It also came two days after both clubs confirmed he served an eight-week ban between October and December.

The Daily Mail reported this week Berahino tested positive for a recreational drug during his time at The Hawthorns, although neither club has confirmed the reason for his suspension.

The striker made little impact and it was Morrison, who he had a dressing room bust-up with Berahino in 2014, who was the match-winner.

Morrison's goal marked a rapid start from the Baggies with Salomon Rondon having a goal ruled out for offside after just five minutes.

But they needed to wait just 90 second longer for the winner as Morrison continued his fine form.

Nacer Chadli's neat run went unchecked and he threaded a pass through to the Scot who ran behind the Stoke defence and fired across Lee Grant from the angle.

It was a lightning start from the hosts and Morrison and Rondon went close to adding a second when Chris Brunt's low centre fizzed across goal.

Stoke were restricted to hanging balls towards Peter Crouch but the striker, who scored his 100th Premier League goal against Everton in mid-week, remained isolated and starved of decent service.

There was more purpose to Albion, in contrast to the visitors' aimless efforts, and the home fans took great delight in jeering pantomime villain Berahino.

Albion's lead was earned with a degree of flair and grit as they batted away any Stoke efforts and looked dangerous with every attack.

But they needed a second goal to be completely comfortable and should have grabbed at least one before half time.

First, Rondon's drive was turned wide by Grant after 32 minutes and 10 minutes later Matt Phillips's drive deflected just over after clipping Bruno Martins Indi.

They almost paid for their profligacy when Allen missed a glorious chance to level a minute before the break.

Pieters' cross found the midfielder completely unmarked six yards out but he failed to get a clean connection with his header and Ben Foster smothered on the line.

Stoke boss Mark Hughes resisted the temptation to make changes at the break and Charlie Adam and Phil Bardsley went close from distance.

But Berahino was thrown on with over half an hour gone, replacing Crouch, and the anger was evident from the home supporters as the visitors looked for a spark.

Stoke had improved since half time with more zip to their game and a desire to battle the Baggies for every ball but still failed to find a way through.

Grant was forced to tip James McClean's curling effort over with 20 minutes left and Stoke should have levelled nine minutes later when Pieters headed Bardsley's cross wide.

Stoke pushed for an equaliser but debutant Jake Livermore could have finished it for the Baggies in stoppage time but slipped in the area after a quick break from Rondon.

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