Tuesday 12 December 2017

Jerome rides to rescue


Richard Jolly

This was Stoke City, but not as we know them. It was not the side with the supposedly impenetrable rearguard or the team that had struggled to score.

On a day of remarkable drama, Stoke – the supposed long-throw specialists – scored after a short throw, and salvaged a point in improbable fashion.

For 45 minutes, as Tony Pulis admitted, they were unconvincing impostors. Then, they resembled their old selves with an unrelenting onslaught. They possess the Premier League's longest unbeaten home record and, when it seemed Southampton would become the first visitors to emerge victorious since Sunderland in February, Cameron Jerome produced a stunning goal to deny them victory.

Only three opposing players had found the net on Stoke's own turf before Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez joined the select band of Javi Garcia, Papiss Cisse and Steven Gerrard. Lambert volleyed in Guly do Prado's deep cross before Robert Huth diverted the scorer's centre on to his own bar and Rodriguez converted the rebound.

Stoke's uncharacteristic uncertainty at the back was epitomised by Southampton's third goal; when Lambert met Jason Puncheon's cross with a towering header in the Stoke box, Andy Wilkinson sliced his attempted clearance into his own net. Shorn of Ryan Shawcross and Geoff Cameron, both suspended, a usually frugal back four showed unusual generosity. "We were shocking in the first half," said Pulis. "We didn't deserve anything." His disappointment was matched by Nigel Adkins' delight. "You look at our first-half performance and it was top drawer," he said. "Lambert and Rodriguez were outstanding together."

Stoke's first equaliser came from Kenwyne Jones who supplied a deft, flicked finish to Ryan Shotton's cross following the full-back's five-yard throw.

Pulis finished with four strikers among just 10 men. The turning point occurred in the Stoke box, however. Rodriguez should have scored a second and Do Prado ought to have converted an open goal.

Instead, it swiftly became 3-2. Matthew Upson slid in to score after Jones' shot was blocked. Then the tide looked to be turning back in Southampton's favour when Steven Nzonzi's foul on Jack Cork resulted in a straight red card from referee Mark Clattenburg.

Pulis said: "The lad certainly doesn't stamp on the player. I've spoken to Mark and Mark is going to have a look at it."

An appeal will surely succeed, sparing Nzonzi a three-match ban. But, though depleted, Stoke were not defeated. They acquired an irresistible momentum and, while Jerome had a goal disallowed for offside, there was no denying him from 30 yards.


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