Jerome goal gives Potters the Blues

Cameron Jerome’s bundled 50th-minute effort was enough to separate

the sides, and enough also to equal the club’s longest stretch

without defeat in the top flight going back 101 years to 1908.

Remarkably, on that occasion Birmingham were relegated, but there

is surely no chance of that happening this time around after a run

of seven wins and four draws to lift the Blues up to seventh. As

the final whistle sounded there were jeers from the Stoke fans, in

contrast to those from the visiting supporters who chanted “We are

unbeatable”. Unlike Birmingham, who have 32 points from 20 matches,

Stoke face relegation trouble unless they find a cure for their

ills in front of goal. Tony Pulis has made it clear that unless his

side improve on a woeful tally of just 15 goals in 19 matches –

failing to score in five of their last six – then a battle to beat

the drop beckons. The Potters could have put the game beyond

Birmingham in the first 45 minutes alone but they missed a host of

opportunities from inside the area. Stoke were particularly

dangerous from set-pieces – Liam Lawrence and Matthew Etherington

with corners delivered from the flanks, and the typically booming

throws from Rory Delap. Lawrence and Delap were two of the five

changes made by Pulis from the side beaten 2-0 at Manchester City

on Boxing Day. Three were enforced with Glenn Whelan and Salif Diao

suspended, and Andy Wilkinson out with an ankle injury sustained at

Eastlands, whilst Mamady Sidibe and Danny Collins were benched. In

replacing Sidibe, Pulis handed James Beattie his first start for

six matches and the striker won a host of headers in the opening 45

but was never presented with any sort of real opening prior to his

departure on the hour. Blues came under pressure from the very

first whistle as Lawrence and Delap peppered the area with corners

and throws but their resiliant defence largely stood firm. However,

how Shawcross did not put Stoke ahead in the 20th minute remains a

mystery. He found himself completely unmarked, with the goal

gaping, just two yards from goal after an inswinging Etherington

corner, but the defender unbelievably shot wide of the post. Huth

missed a similarly good chance a few minutes earlier as he shot

wide after being put clean through on goal, while Abdoulaye Faye

went close with a header and Etherington with a rising 20-yard half

volley that finished a yard over the bar. As for Birmingham, they

had to wait until the 30th minute to chalk up their first effort

anywhere near Thomas Sorensen’s goal, and even then Jerome dragged

his shot hopelessly wide from just inside the area. There was one

goalmouth scramble as Stoke finally came under a semblance of

pressure and another dragged chance, this time for Sebastian

Larsson, and that was as good as it got for the visitors. However,

Blues scored a goal out of the blue, and perhaps in keeping with

what had gone before it was hardly the sweetest of goals, not that

that will bother Jerome. There was a touch of good fortune to it as

a glancing header from Scott Dann to a James McFadden corner struck

the left leg of the unaware Shawcross sending the ball spinning

into the six-yard box. From three yards out, and on the turn,

Jerome managed to bundle the ball home off the body of Sorensen,

who was unable to prevent it from crossing the line. The goal

sparked Stoke into life, and but for Joe Hart they would have been

on level terms before the hour. Initially palming a Lawrence cross

off the head of Tuncay, Hart quickly scrambled to his feet to

brilliantly turn aside a rasping drive from Etherington. Moments

later, and with Birmingham’s defence creaking, Dann then bravely

threw his body in the way of a cracker from Dean Whitehead. From

the resultant Lawrence corner, Hart showed tremendous agility to

tip away off the line at full stretch a powerful 15-yard header

from Stoke captain Abdoulaye Faye. Pulis threw on Ricardo Fuller

and Sidibe, but Stoke could not muster another chance in the

closing half hour, although they were denied a clear penalty when

Huth was blatantly pulled down by Stephen Carr.