The comforts of home for Steve Kean extended to the reception only. Excellent away results at Liverpool and Manchester United had fuelled hope in the Blackburn Rovers manager that it was safe to return to the intimidating waters of Ewood Park. The 100th and 101st league goals of Peter Crouch's career, however, ensured trouble remains.
This defeat, Blackburn's third on the run on home soil and before their lowest Premier League crowd for three years, could not be pinned on a mutinous Ewood but Rovers' misfortune in front of goal and their failure to find a solution to the commanding, polished performance of Stoke City's £10m signing from Tottenham Hotspur.
"He's unplayable at times," said Tony Pulis of a striker who still has aspirations of featuring for England at Euro 2012. "I thought Crouch and [Jonathan] Woodgate were very good and it's not just what they do on the pitch but off it. They are top players who have played for top clubs and they've been fantastic towards the whole group since they arrived. I'm delighted for Peter. He is a top guy who is very enthusiastic about being a footballer, and that's a great commodity."
Whether sated by the four points from festive trips to Anfield and Old Trafford, or in the interests of self-preservation, Blackburn supporters did not subject their manager to more vitriolic abuse and responded defiantly when Crouch gave Stoke an early lead against the run of play. The only protest came in a lone banner against Kean that was unfurled after the final whistle and in the mirth that greeted the Scot's tumble in a collision with Morten Gamst Pedersen. "The crowd made a massive difference," said Kean. "Even at 2-0 they stayed with us."
Kean's cause, indeed Blackburn's, rests more on keeping Chris Samba at the club this month than the level of hostility or otherwise in the stands. The Blackburn captain was immense at both ends of the field, demonstrating why rivals remain interested in prising him from Lancashire. Only the width of a crossbar plus a harsh decision from referee Lee Mason denied him the opening goal in the first five minutes. "I've been told nothing about selling," the Rovers manager said. "We're only going to add. I want to keep the squad intact."
Samba headed a Pedersen corner against the bar and converted a second moments later only for Mason to disallow his diving header for a foul on Thomas Sorensen by Yakubu Ayegbeni. Television replays did not support the referee's judgment.
Stoke started on the back foot but showed an experience in possession and a threat in Crouch that the hosts lacked. Their first genuine attack of note reinforced that point as Glen Whelan and Dean Whitehead kept the pressure on the Blackburn defence following a weak clearance from Steven Nzonzi. When Whitehead's cross fell to the England international inside the area, Samba, his marker, lost his footing. Crouch duly had time he could never have imagined to control and to convert the 100th league goal of his career inside the near post.
Goal number 101 for Crouch arrived seconds before the interval as Stoke caught Blackburn superbly on the counter-attack. Matthew Etherington led the charge from deep inside his own half and, having met little resistance, found Crouch as he peeled away from Adam Henley, stepped inside the young Rovers' defender and gave Mark Bunn no chance with an emphatic finish into the roof of the net.
Crouch said: "I am really pleased and proud to get 100 league goals. I feel very privileged and pleased with that. I am more pleased to get it out of the way, to be honest, because the longer you are on 99 the harder it is to get to 100. Hopefully that is out of the way I can look forward to many more."
Blackburn struggled to find a response in the second half but, once David Goodwillie converted Pedersen's corner at the second attempt for his first league goal for Rovers, they bombarded the Stoke defence in search of an equaliser. Yakubu, so prolific since his summer move from Everton, had a glorious chance to level late on when Pedersen's long throw landed at his feet a yard from the goal-line. His effort struck Woodgate, however, and fell perfectly for Sorensen to collect. The chance, the points and the opportunity to build on the momentum of Old Trafford had gone for Kean and Blackburn.