Stoke are not the sophisticates' cup of Earl Grey – especially after a week in which England were outclassed playing in their attritional fashion – but manager Tony Pulis will never apologise for that and his combative scrappers are on the rise again after recording three successive league wins at top level for the first time in 26 years.
West Brom, in contrast, try to play The Beautiful Game, but are suffering for it to such an extent that their manager, Roberto di Matteo, wants to "win ugly." He said: "I don't want my team to be pretty, I want to win games, and if we need to do it playing a certain way, that's not a problem for me. There are different ways to win and styles can be secondary."
Everybody at The Hawthorns, management included, accepts that the end will now justify any means after a miserable return of one point from the past five matches.
If Stoke were cast in England's image today, West Brom were the poor man's France, with one vital exception. They had no Karim Benzema to finish off some promising approach work and no Samir Nasri to supply the front men with penetrative accuracy.
In that respect, Giles Barnes, promoted in place of the injured Chris Brunt, remains a frustrating enigma, working his way into good positions only to cross the ball like Mr Magoo. With such service, Albion's find of the season, Peter Odemwingie, was condemned to starvation rations.
Remarkably, they have now failed to beat the men from the Potteries in their past 26 meetings.
After a dire first half, in which neither goalkeeper was required to make a save, a dour scrap finally improved in the second period. Matthew Etherington broke the tedious deadlock after 54 minutes with his first goal of the season, from the penalty spot, after Scott Carson had charged almost to the 18-yard line to bring down Kenwyne Jones at a time when – with defenders well placed – his rash intervention was unnecessary.
Albion were powder puff until Cameroon's Somen Tchoyi, on as substitute, brought a couple of decent saves from Asmir Begovic, but, for the most part Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross were untroubled at centre-back for Stoke, who transformed a hard-earned win into a convincing one with two goals in the last five minutes.
Striker Jon Walters, who came on as substitute for Etherington with 10 minutes to play, scored both of them, tucking away a second penalty in the 85th minute after Simon Cox's foul on Dean Whitehead, then beating Carson – who parried his initial shot – at the second attempt after an inviting left-wing centre from Jones.
Pulis said: "I always intended to bring Jon on because he made his debut for the Republic of Ireland in midweek, and that gave him a big boost."
Di Matteo, implausibly, disputed both penalties, but Pulis said: "We have had three in our past 92 matches and I'm told Arsenal have had nine this season, so I think we are due a few."
Of his team's improvement, he added: "We had been on a bad run of four successive defeats, now we have had three straight wins in the top division for the first time since 1984, so we are moving in the right direction."
Pulis's only concern last night was the hamstring injury that forced off midfielder Jermain Pennant after just 11 minutes.
THE FANS' PLAYER RATINGS AND VERDICTJOHN BRADSHAW, Observer reader We're in a real battle now. Losing at home to Stoke says a lot about where we're headed. We didn't play that badly – the problem was the attitude and set-up: we were mostly defensive and negative, lacked self-belief and couldn't deliver any decent forward balls. Scharner was awful, Carson had a shocker and everyone else was pretty average. There's a lot of hard work ahead of us if we're going to turn this round. I never thought I'd look up to them, but we could learn a lot from the way Stoke approached it: their players aren't better than ours, but their belief and confidence in their system was obvious.
The fan's player ratings Carson 4; Jara 5, Tamas 5, Ibáñez 5, Cech 5; Scharner 3, Mulumbu 5 (Dorrans 80); Barnes 5 (Tchoyi 66 5), Morrison 5 (Cox 56 4), Thomas 5; Odemwingie 5
ROBERT HOLLOWAY, Observer reader We have a really good record against West Brom over the years, but this match was a lot closer than the score shows. Even five minutes from time, before we scored our second goal, it was in the balance and West Brom were attacking. I would still have taken a point at that stage. But then we got a lucky penalty – we had a clear view of it and it looked like a normal tussle for the ball – and that killed the game off. Walters sealed the game for us right at the end. My ambition for the season is just to stay up. We seem to be collecting our results in batches this season, and we have now won three in a row.
The fan's player ratings Begovic 7; Wilkinson 7, Huth 8, Shawcross 8, Collins 7; Pennant 7 (Tuncay 11 6), Whitehead 7, Delap 7, Etherington 6 (Walters 79 8); Fuller 7 (Wilson 83 6), Jones 7
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