A Graziano Pellé double for Southampton helped them to get their Europa League challenge back on track following a draw against Sunderland in their last outing.
The Italian’s double proved to be the difference in an entertaining game that was lacking genuine quality.
In the first half an hour Stoke were abject. There was a lack of intensity from the home side, who were looking to continue their upward trajectory which had seen them collect 10 points in their previous four matches.
The visitors put an end to that as Pelle first flicked a header into the net, and then curled neatly into the far corner following good work on the left hand side by Dusan Tadic.
Problems for Hughes
Ronald Koeman’s men only enjoyed 39% of the possession, but it was all that was needed as the hosts lacked any intensity going forward. It will be a worry for Mark Hughes that Xherdan Shaqiri went off injured just after the Saints’ first goal because, in recent weeks, the Swiss international had looked to have found his feet in the Premier League.
The Saints, meanwhile,will be glad that Pelle looks to have found his goal scoring form having not scored since November. Pelle could really establish himself as the Saints’ number one striker following the injury to Charlie Austin, and his goals will be vital as Southampton aim for European football next year.
Saints' attacking prowess
Despite the lack of quality in this match, the hosts should not feel hard done by. Southampton worked harder throughout the 90 minutes.
The attacking trio of Tadic, Shane Long and Pelle caused problems for the Potters all afternoon, and it could arguably have been more had Tadic not taken too long with a shot in the first half and Lee Mason incorrectly ruled against the Serbian following a coming together with Jack Butland.
It was this attacking threat which was the difference between the two sides.
Long was a nuisance all afternoon for the Saints, constantly getting in behind the Stoke back four and was instrumental in all of their best chances. This difference highlighted the problems that Hughes has upfront with Mame-Briam Diouf having only a handful of touches all game and missing a glorious chance to level the score for the Potters.
Whereas Southampton have a glut forward players all waiting to make an impact, Stoke could only bring on Peter Crouch who lacked match fitness, and Jonathan Walters who failed to grab his chance as the main striker when he was given his opportunity earlier in the season. Joselu was an unused substitute and it remains to be seen whether Hughes will trust the Spaniard with a starting role in the weeks to come.
Hughes has plenty to ponder before his side travel to Watford next weekend, whist Koeman will hope that the Saints can carry this performance into their game with Liverpool.