Joe Allen continued his recent impressive form as he scored twice to give Stoke City a comfortable 2-0 victory over Sunderland on Saturday.
It was a win that was very much needed. A game that, on paper, may well have changed Mark Hughes’ future at the club.
Before Saturday’s clash, Stoke sat in 19th position in the league. With only three points to show from seven games, Allen’s form has certainly helped ease the pressure on his compatriot’s shoulders.
Allen, who has now scored four goals in the last three league matches, was initially a doubt for the game. Scoring for his country against Austria last week, Allen was withdrawn in the second half amid fears of hamstring trouble.
Players turn up at right time for Hughes
Allen’s recovery meant that Glen Johnson was the only absentee from the team that earned a point at Old Trafford. Phil Bardsley was drafted in at right-back for cover.
Johnson aside, Hughes opted for the same starting XI and set-up as the visit to Manchester a fortnight ago.
Sunderland had the better of the opening few minutes as Jermain Defoe looked to make an early impact.
Arguably against the run of play, it was Stoke who took the lead in the eighth minute.
Marko Arnautovic danced his way to the by-line, before chipping the ball onto the head of the on-rushing Allen who made no mistake.
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Sunderland though, didn’t let their heads drop. Midfield general Wahbi Khazri was finding plenty of time and space on the ball, setting up Defoe who twice went close.
A seemingly rejuvenated Wilfried Bony then had a effort whistle past visiting goalkeeper Jordan Pickford’s post.
Stoke were keen to head into the break on the front foot. Just before the half-time whistle, they doubled their lead.
Questionable Black Cats defending from a Xherdan Shaqiri corner saw the ball only partially cleared.
The ball broke to none other than Allen, who steadied himself on the edge of the box and drove a left-footed shot through a crowd of bodies and into the corner of the net.
Things looking up at Stoke City, for once
Stoke started the second half as they ended the first.
Bony forced another save from Pickford before blasting a second effort just wide; seemingly eager to break his duck.
Arnautovic then neatly slipped in Shaqiri whose effort was smartly blocked. The Austrian then had an effort ruled out for offside as he deflected a Charlie Adam shot into the net.
A rare call-to-action was issued to Lee Grant, as a goal-bound Khazri free-kick needed dealing with. That, though, was as close as Sunderland came.
Adam tried to provide one last sting in the tail. His rasping drive from the edge of the box smacked against Pickford’s crossbar before being cleared.
It mattered none, as Stoke City finally saw their recent turn in efforts rewarded. A first – and thoroughly deserved – win of the season.