Pulis marks 300th game with win
Stoke City continued their unbeaten start to the new year with a comprehensive victory over ten-man Blackburn Rovers at the Britannia Stadium. Full-back Danny Higginbotham produced the finish of a striker in the eighth minute as he sent a volley past Paul Robinson before Mamady Sidibe made it 2-0 in first-half stoppage time. Matthew Etherington then added a third in the second half shortly after Chris Samba had been sent off for pulling back Ricardo Fuller.
Tribute to the Wizard of the Dribble
On the day the club commemorated Sir Stanley Matthews' final competitive appearance in a Stoke shirt 45 years ago, Tony Pulis's players produced a fitting performance for the occasion. The hosts went at their opponents from the first whistle and, after Rory Delap had peppered the Blackburn box with some of his trademark long throws, the Potters took an early lead.
Liam Lawrence swung in a corner to the near post that Martin Olsson rose to head away, but the clearance fell straight to Higginbotham, who struck superbly through a crowd of players, across Robinson and into the bottom right-hand corner. Two minutes later it looked as if Stoke had doubled their advantage when the ball bounced over the line after a ricochet in the box, but Fuller was adjudged to have fouled Pascal Chimbonda in the build-up.
Blackburn fans cried out for a penalty in the 14th minute when Olsson went down in the box under a challenge by Lawrence, but referee Steve Bennett waved play on. Delap's throwing prowess continued to cause trouble at the other end, with Ryan Shawcross heading over from another one of the midfielder's deliveries. Franco Di Santo then missed Blackburn's clearest opportunity yet, misdirecting a header inside the six-yard box from Morten Gamst Pedersen's cross.
Sidibe slots in Stoke's second
Stoke were looking comfortable and Etherington's free-kick went straight to Delap, but arrived too quickly for him to put any power on the header. Blackburn then managed to apply some pressure as they won a succession of corners which the hosts struggled to get away. Samba came close to scoring with one, but his header was cleared off the line and Stoke survived. Dean Whitehead mis-kicked from a few yards out in first-half added time after another Delap throw had caused panic in the Blackburn defence, but moments later Sidibe slotted in Etherington's cross to extend the Potters' lead.
Stoke kept up the momentum after the restart and almost made it 3-0 in the 55th minute through Shawcross, who drew a spectacular diving save out of Robinson after firmly heading Etherington's corner towards goal. Life got even more difficult for the visitors four minutes later as they were reduced to ten men, Samba given his marching orders after a blatant tug on Fuller.
Higginbotham was denied his second of the afternoon when Olsson headed off the line and Robinson showed sharp reflexes again to parry Fuller's header. Robinson could do nothing in the 67th minute, though, as Etherington played a one-two with Lawrence, turned inside substitute Michel Salgado and placed the ball beyond the goalkeeper's reach.
Even with a three-goal advantage Stoke looked hungry for more and Higginbotham met a corner 15 minutes from time, but could not direct his shot towards goal. Pulis then introduced some fresh impetus to his attack by replacing Fuller and Sidibe with Tuncay Sanli and James Beattie, although it was Higginbotham again who went close in the 84th minute with a header that deflected away off Salgado.