A Graziano Pelle double did for Stoke City on Saturday, as they lost 2-1 at home to Southampton.
In the early stages of the match neither side dominated play, but it was Southampton who had the first real chance of the game following a whipped in cross from the left by Shane Long. Graziano Pellé managed to get clean contact with the cross however, Jack Butland managed to avert the danger, tipping the ball over as it looked to be heading into the back of the net.
Pelle grabs early goal
From the resulting corner, Southampton grabbed the lead. It was Steven Davies with the ball into the near post, Imbula didn’t rise high enough and this allowed Pellé to steal in and head ball into the roof of the net leaving Butland with no chance.
Southampton could have had a second not long after. A long ball was played in behind the Stoke back four by Steven Davies. Philipp Wollscheid mistimed his interception and this allowed the ever industrious Long to run onto the ball with only Butland to beat. The striker decided to hit the ball into the near post, but a strong double handed save by the Stoke goalkeeper helped to keep the visitors at bay.
Italian stallion gets his second
However, the away fans didn’t have to wait much longer to celebrate their second goal of the match. A ball in from the Southampton right wasn’t cleared by Geoff Cameron, and Pellé collected the loose ball on the far left hand touchline. He interchanged passes with Dusan Tadic, before unleashing a curling shot into the far corner beyond Butland. Despite the neat build up play, the Stoke defenders were static, and Butland will feel as though he could have done better with the effort.
Xherdan Shaqiri was substituted after the goal due to an injury to his thigh, and was emblematic of the Stoke side for the first half who looked extremely lethargic and out of sorts compared with the dynamic display they put in at Chelsea.
Imbula, the club’s record signing from Porto, had his quietest half of football since his arrival in January, and Stoke’s player of the season so far, Marko Arnautovic, was far from his best. Despite the hosts having the majority of possession, Forster had very little to trouble him and the lack of penetration from the home side should worry Mark Hughes.
As half time loomed, another long ball down the right channel found Long who collected the pass and drove at the heart of the Stoke defence. Tadic had made a good supporting run and Long unselfishly squared the ball to him who only had Butland to beat. He cut the ball back inside and then took one further touch, but this allowed Geoff Cameron to make a vital sliding tackle.
Tadic should really have scored, and had it been three-nil at half time, there would have been no way back for Stoke.
Would Southampton be punished for wasting their chances?
After the break, Stoke came out looking to reduce the two goal deficit, and it didn’t take long. In the 54th minute Bojan’s cross from the right wing was headed away into the path of the increasingly effective Imbula. He released Ibrahim Afellay whose left footed cross was turned in at the near post by Marko Arnautovic. Mark Hughes’ team talk clearly had an effect, and now it was Southampton’s turn to soak up the pressure.
In the following ten minutes Stoke increased the intensity of their play and it nearly provided Stoke’s second goal of the match when Cameron’s cross from the right flank picked out Diouf at the far post. He took too long to control the ball, and didn’t make a clean connection with his left footed shot which was deflected over Fraser Forster’s goal. It was going to prove a costly miss and one that a Premier League strike should really be converting.
As the Stoke pressure subsided, Southampton looked to grab the third goal which would effectively gain the three points for the Saints, and they nearly had it. Pellé’s dinked pass fell perfectly for Tadic to take a touch past the onrushing Butland who looked to have made contact with the latter’s trailing leg, but Lee Mason waved away claims for the spot kick which looked like the wrong decision.
It was Southampton again who had the best chance two minutes from time. James Ward-Prowse’s curling free kick from 25 yards smashing into Butland’s crossbar following Wollschied manhandling Long.
There was still time for Saido Mane to be sent off for the visitors as Lee Mason incorrectly adjudged that Mane had raised his elbow into Erik Pieters’ head following a clearance. Southampton will most likely appeal this decision because there was no contact by the Southampton striker's arm with Pieters, just a clash of heads.
The result saw the Saints climb up to seventh in the table as they begin their march for Europa League football, whereas for Stoke this was a huge blow in their bid to join them.