A second half-thunderbolt from Xherdan Shaqiri and a clever double substitution by Mark Hughes helped Stoke City to put an end to their current poor run of form with an action packed 3-1 victory against Hull City at the Bet365 Stadium on Saturday.
The Potters came into the contest on the back of four consecutive defeats and whilst this result guarantees them another season of top flight football their defeated opponents are now firmly in the relegation mire.
Hull are now just two points clear of the bottom three and it appears that it will be a straight shoot-out between themselves and Swansea City for who will preserve their place in the Premier League for next season.
The contest itself was thoroughly entertaining and had a little bit of everything. Marko Arnautovic gave the hosts an early lead but then spurned a number of glorious goal-scoring opportunities in the first half to put Stoke out of sight.
Saido Berahino had the ball in the back of the net but saw his strike ruled out for offside whilst at the other end of the pitch Lee Grant had to produce a smart save to prevent Kamil Grosicki from pulling the visitors level.
However, Hull City came out of the dressing room with much more purpose after the half-time interval and deservedly scored an equaliser courtesy of young central defender Harry Maguire.
It was at this stage, with the game seemingly slipping away from Stoke, that Mark Hughes made an inspired double substitution to turn the game back in his side’s favour.
Jonathan Walters and Peter Crouch climbed off the bench and it took less than five minutes for the pair to combine and restore The Potters’ lead through the latter, despite the initial decision to throw them on being jeered by some home supporters.
There was still time for Oumar Niasse to be inches away from equalising the score for a second time and Walters to strike the underside of the bar before Shaqiri produced his moment of magic.
The diminutive Swiss attacker latched onto a pass and proceeded to smash a thunderous 30-yard strike beyond the despairing Eldin Jakupovic to confirm an important three points for Stoke and a fourteenth away defeat in the Premier League for Hull.
Double substitution helps Hughes to silence the critics
The victory on Saturday moves Stoke City up to eleventh place in the Premier League and ensures that the club will be playing top-flight football for a ninth successive campaign next season.
However, there is a growing number of supporters who have become increasingly frustrated with the current trajectory of the team over the last eighteen months with some even calling for a change in manager.
Indeed, it is difficult to argue that The Potters have had an inconsistent, topsy-turvy season under Mark Hughes which will probably see them finish somewhere between eleventh and eight in the league table.
However, the Welshman proved on Saturday that there is still no lack of fighting spirit or managerial know-how on his behalf.
With the game poised at 1-1 in the second period and his side firmly on the back foot, Hughes took the bold decision to change from a 3-4-3 to a 4-4-2 formation with Jonathan Walters and Peter Crouch both being sent on for the ineffective Saido Berahino and Charlie Adam.
The double substitution was jeered by a section of the home support but those fans were soon on their feet applauding after Crouch converted Walters’ excellent cross to restore Stoke’s lead.
Hughes’ double substitution and change of formation undoubtedly won The Potters a vital three points and, perhaps, helped to silence some of his doubters.
Hull remain in the driving seat in the race for survival
There is little doubt that Marco Silva has helped to re-energise and rejuvenate Hull City since being appointed as the club’s third manager of the season in January.
The Tigers have become much more difficult to beat, look threatening going forward, and simply look more organised and disciplined than under previous regimes.
However, a defeat at the Bet365 Stadium came as little surprise – Hull have picked up just five points on their travels all season, suffering fourteen defeats.
The result leaves Silva’s side two points clear of the relegation zone and very much in the driving seat as they attempt to out-run Swansea City.
Yet, the statistics make it abundantly clear that they need to start picking up points on the round to complement their solid home form – and time is beginning to run out.
Hull performed well, on the whole, against Stoke City on Saturday but simply lacked the cutting edge and creativity in the final third to put the finishing touches to some of their fine passing moves.
There were limited attacking options or game changers amongst the substitutes for Silva to call upon, something which his opposite number, Mark Hughes, was able to do with great effect to secure the three points.
Shaqiri leaves Hull shell-shocked (again)
Xherdan Shaqiri must like facing Hull City. The Swiss superstar has scored just seven goals in almost two years for Stoke City with three of those strikes coming against The Tigers this campaign.
He scored two spectacular long-range strikes at the KCOM Stadium back in October and he was at it again on Saturday when he unleashed a 30-yard thunderbolt to secure the three points for Mark Hughes’ side.
The 25-year-old picked up the ball 30 yards from goal and took a couple of touches to set himself before launching an astonishing strike that flew into the back of the net.
It was a moment of magic that rounded off an entertaining display from the Swiss international who was always involved in the play and provided the assist for Marko Arnautovic’s opener.
Shaqiri now has one goal and two assists in his last two appearances since returning from a prolonged absence caused by muscular injuries.
On a slightly more humorous note, Stoke released their official goal of the season competition last week. After Shaqiri’s strike against Hull maybe they need to reset the vote!
Feature Image: All Rights Reserved MeckyCM (MeckyCM)