STOKE CITY FC 3 BLACKBURN ROVERS 1
Being at The Britannia Stadium was much better than last week in so many ways. First, we had a referee in Mark Halsey, who clearly has a well developed sense of both fairness and humour. He’s not afraid to laugh at his perfectly normal human frailties, or indeed those of his assistants. He doesn’t take himself so seriously that it affects the quality of his refereeing. He’s clearly held in high regard by the players. He let the game flow. All this on the same afternoon that last week’s dismal ref Mr.Jones produced another dismal performance at The Theatre of Dreams, reducing the Man U faithful to near tears, as he reversed last week’s approach to penalties. Shame really he must have watched the video of our QPR match, recognised that he failed to award us two obvious penalties, so yesterday he awarded Newcastle United a penalty that wasn’t, although – fair play to him, as they say in Wales – changing his decision on the say so of an equally inept linesman, after initially, correctly, awarding a corner.
Second, the atmosphere in the ground improved as we went along. There was tension and uncertainty amongst the crowd until we were 2 – 0 up, and even then people did not really relax until Crouch netted our third. Blackburn were not good but posed sufficient threat to keep us all on the edge of our seats at times. They are still clearly playing for manager Keane. With us 1-0 up they bossed possession at the start of the second half, making one chance in particular a minute or so after the restart, which, had it been converted could well have changed the course of the game. Rochina dribbled into our area, beating three Stoke players on the way. His clever backheel into the heart of our six yard box was completely missed by Formica, three yards out, when it looked easier to score than miss, and we feared the worst.
Third, we won, breaking the miserable run of Premiership defeats, and crucially successive home defeats. Plus we scored three goals. Rory Delap’s headed opener (27 min) came from a fine Pennant freekick from the right, following Nzonzi’s foul on Crouch. The second goal was initiated by Etherington. He scampered down the left, cutting the ball back from the byline to Walters. Super John teed up the ball for Whelan. The Irishman’s shot took two deflections on its way into Robinson’s net (57 min).Crouch had contributed some class touches to our game, but he crowned that by netting the third goal, latching onto an excellent Wilson ball from deep, sliding his shoot skilfully under Robinson’s dive ,and into the far corner of the net.
Plenty of pluses in this performance. The defence looked to be getting itself back into some sort of shape, although there was clear disappointment amongst them that we conceded a late consolation goal (85 min) to the visitors Rochina. Etherington and Pennant are getting closer to last season’s form.Rory Delap had his best game for a long while, deservedly taking Man of the Match.