Stoke City 1-0 Sheffield Wednesday: Fletcher haunts former side to end winless run
Photo by Andrew Kearns - CameraSport via Getty Images

Steven Fletcher’s late winner ended an 11-game winless run for Stoke City as they beat Sheffield Wednesday 1-0 at the bet365 Stadium.

After an even first half, Stoke bossed the second period as they looked to put an end to their recent poor results.

They avoided being made to rue their missed chances with Fletcher’s strike seven minutes from time to put his side in eighth and keep his former employers in the bottom three.

Story of the match

It was an even start at the bet365 Stadium, with both sides sharing the early possession stats until the 10th minute when the Owls had the game’s opening chance.

Barry Bannan was slipped down the right-hand side, taking the ball inwards before he saw his drilled cross lifted over the crossbar by the outstretched leg of Jordan Rhodes.

Stoke replied just moments later as Jacob Brown picked out the back-post run of James McClean, however, Tom Lees read the delivery and averted the danger by heading the ball behind.

Liam Shaw then powered an unchallenged header against the frame of goal, connecting with Bannan’s in-swinging corner, with the referee blowing for a foul as Shaw collided with Angus Gunn in the aftermath.

On the half-hour mark, Brown again caused problems on Stoke’s right flank. The former Barnsley winger played a give-and-go with Nick Powell before hitting a tame effort, which was easily collected by Keiren Westwood.

Rhodes then forced Gunn into a comfortable save on 33 minutes, steering Kadeem Harris’ floated cross from the right into the hands of the ‘keeper.

On the stroke of the break, the Owls went close to going in front after a corner was not cleared by the Potters, with Adam Reach keeping the ball in play and riding the lunging challenge of Josh Tymon before his cross was turned over by Chey Dunkley.

After a drab first half, the hosts began the second period excellently, putting Wednesday under immense pressure for the first 15 minutes.

Stoke should have taken the lead just three minutes after the restart. Reach made a hash of a clearance towards the right of the penalty area, allowing eight-goal midfielder Powell to force Westwood into a great save, as he palmed the ball behind for a corner.

McClean was then presented with a good chance moments later. Former Owl Fletcher dispossessed Dunkley on halfway and Stoke began to counter, threading the ball out to McClean on the left, who wrong-footed Lees before flashing a shot wide of the upright.

On the hour, Fletcher almost punished his former employers, taking in a cut-back from Brown and rifling it towards goal, but Lees threw himself into the firing line to block the effort.

With 20 minutes remaining, Brown provided Joe Allen with a chance to take the lead, however, the Welsh international drilled wide of the far post.

Stoke’s pressure finally broke a resolute Owls backline, winning the game with seven minutes remaining. Tommy Smith’s lofted ball into the area was headed into the middle by Harry Souttar, falling kindly for an unmarked Fletcher, who struck past his former side to net his seventh goal of the season.

Moments later, Jack Clarke almost confirmed the three points for the Potters, forcing Westwood into a superb save from close range.

A late free-kick almost provided the equaliser for Wednesday, with Lees heading Bannan’s delivery area towards goal, but the chance was held by Gunn to earn the Potters an important three points.

Takeaway from the game

Stoke’s winless run ends

The Potters ended an 11-game winless run to climb to eighth in the Championship table, closing the gap to four points off sixth-placed AFC Bournemouth, who play on Wednesday night.

Michael O’Neill will be pleased with Stoke’s second-half performance, with six of their nine efforts at goal coming after the break.

Stoke now have several tricky fixtures on the horizon, facing Luton Town and Barnsley before facing promotion chasers Brentford and Swansea City.

Man of the Match

Tom Lees

Lees was the standout player on the field with an astute display in defence.

The centre-half made two tackles and two blocks as he almost single-handedly kept Stoke out in a period the home side bossed – he also made six clearances.

Lees has turned around his form after starting the season poorly and was unfortunate that Wednesday were unable to hold on for a point.