James Morrison strikes early to earn West Bromwich Albion win over Stoke

By 5 months ago

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “James Morrison strikes early to earn West Bromwich Albion win over Stoke” was written by Nick Miller at The Hawthorns, for The Observer on Saturday 4th February 2017 17.06 UTC

West Brom and Stoke have had, since both teams were in the Championship, a spicier rivalry than they are given credit for. Throw in Saido Berahino’s return to the Hawthorns a few weeks after signing for Stoke, and a bubbling enmity between the two benches, and this was a spicier game than the 1-0 scoreline suggested.

It was revealed during the week that Berahino, greeted with boos before the game and even during his half-time warm-up, had served an eight-week ban for recreational drug use while he was with West Brom. His half-hour on the pitch was ultimately a non‑event – it was 20 minutes before he even touched the ball – but after the game the Stoke manager, Mark Hughes, hinted the ban becoming public knowledge might not have been an accident.

“They were able to keep it under wraps, then lo and behold it comes out two days before this game,” Hughes said. “It’s a shame because people might suggest West Brom had something to do with it. But that would be unfair, wouldn’t it?” When asked if he was accusing West Brom of deliberately trying to unsettle Stoke, Hughes – butter refusing to melt in his mouth – said: “I’m not saying that. You can interpret it like that.”

This was a game that West Brom largely dominated, and they were disappointed that James Morrison’s sixth‑minute strike was all they had to show for their efforts. That goal came when Nacer Chadli counter-attacked down the left, slid a perfect ball through to Morrison, who was allowed as much time and space as he liked to slot the ball into the bottom corner.

By the 14th minute Chadli was showboating, and while he is undoubtedly a fine player, Stoke’s backline might have benefited from being told that they were not, in fact, facing Garrincha.

On the touchline, Tony Pulis was the more animated of the two managers, ostentatiously annoyed that his team had not capitalised on their dominance. “If we’re being critical we’d like to have scored more goals,” Pulis’s assistant Dave Kemp said after the game. This result was West Brom’s sixth win in the last seven at home, and leaves them six points behind Manchester United. Is European football a possibility? “Let’s not get too excited,” Kemp said.

Ultimately West Brom made heavier work of the win than they should have, but they held on against a sluggish Stoke side. Not that Hughes was keen to give them too much credit. “When you come here it’s always difficult to break West Brom down, because they’ll get lots of men behind the ball and make it difficult for you,” he said.

At full-time Pulis disappeared down the tunnel and eschewed the post-match pleasantries, as he apparently had done before the game too. “I’d have thought that being the guest he would have welcomed me, but he didn’t,” Hughes said. “I’m not too upset about it to be honest.”

The ill will continues, and this rivalry is all the better for it.

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