Stoke 1 Sunderland 0
Ricardo Fuller’s second-half header gave Stoke a deserved victory over Sunderland to lift the Potters out of the Barclays Premier League bottom three.
Predictably, Rory Delap – one of three Stoke players along with Thomas Sorensen and Danny Higginbotham to play against their former club – was the architect with one of his trademark long throws.
Fuller rose above Dean Whitehead on the six-yard line to power his header past Marton Fulop in the 73rd minute.
It was Stoke’s first victory over Sunderland in the top flight since a 2-1 win in March 1984, when the Staffordshire club successfully fought a battle against relegation. Most in the Potteries will be hoping that is an omen.
Results of a study by television engineers this week measured crowds at the Britannia Stadium as the loudest in the Premier League, and that was in evidence at kick-off.
However, the vociferous home supporters were soon quietened as Sunderland launched what looked like a promising attack down the left-hand side involving George McCartney and Djibril Cisse.
Good link-up play between the pair created space for Cisse to shoot, forcing Sorensen into a smothering save at the foot of his near post in the opening minute.
A trademark long throw from Delap fashioned Stoke’s first opening after 11 minutes.
Mamady Sidibe flicked the ball on at the near post and strike partner Fuller met it on the volley in the centre of the six yard box, but his shot struck Anton Ferdinand at point-blank range and ricocheted to safety.
Phil Bardsley turned a Sidibe cross narrowly wide of his own goal soon after as Stoke began to take control.
Fuller then curled a shot straight at Fulop from the left-hand side of the area before Seyi Olofinjana forced the Hungarian into action once more with a low shot from 20-yards midway through the first-half.
A lull ensued as both side’s seemed to lack penetration inside their opponents’ final third.
Cisse timed his run to the penalty spot perfectly but headed Bardsley’s cross over the crossbar in the 35th minute in what was the best opportunity Sunderland created in the first-half.
Prior to kick-off, eight of Stoke’s 10 Premier League goals this season had been scored in the second half, while the same number of Sunderland’s 13 goals in all competitions had come after the 80-minute mark.
It seemed inevitable then that the game should reach the interval goalless.
Kenwyne Jones started the second half having replaced fellow Trinidad and Tobago international Dwight Yorke at the break.
It was only Jones’ second first-team appearance in four months after returning from a knee ligament injury as a substitute against Newcastle on Saturday.
Despite Sunderland manager Roy Keane’s attacking intent, it was Stoke who created the first opportunity of the second half.
Higginbotham’s inswinging free-kick eluded everyone inside a crowded Sunderland penalty area and Olofinjana was inches away from applying a finishing touch at the far post as he slid towards goal.
Stoke came agonisingly close to breaking the deadlock on the hour after Danny Collins lost possession midway inside his own half.
Tom Soares broke down the right-hand side and put a low cross into the box that was collected at the near post by Fuller.
The Jamaican twisted and turned and eventually got a shot away which hit Bardsley before cannoning back into Fuller and bouncing across the six-yard box. Sidibe just failed to connect with a diving header at the far post from the loose ball.
Higginbotham reacted angrily to a late tackle by Sunderland substitute Michael Chopra in the 71st minute.
Higginbotham quickly got up to confront his former team-mate after being dumped on the floor.
Referee Chris Foy managed to defuse the situation and punished Chopra’s offence with a yellow card.
Stoke’s endeavor was finally rewarded in the 73rd minute when Fuller headed his fourth goal of the season.
Only the outside of a post prevented Fuller from scoring his and Stoke’s second goal six minutes later.
Substitute Michael Tonge slid the ball down the blind side of Sunderland’s defence. Fuller latched on to the pass and hit a low, first time shot that beat Fulop but not the upright.
Sorensen was called into action for the first time in the 84th minute but he was equal to the task, getting down low to block Jones’ angled shot with a strong right hand before smothering the ball at the second attempt.