MATCH REPORT: Stoke City 2, Reading 1
Stoke City 2, Reading 1.
Huth (67), Jerome (81) Mariappa (83)
STOKE pulled off their first league win of 2013 in front of their distinctly tense fans this afternoon.
A late Adrian Mariappa header left City enduring a nervy old ending to the club's 400th appearance at the Britannia.
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Stoke created the greater chances throughout against a Reading side poor for the most part, but had to wait until the 67th minute for Robert Huth to power home a far-post header off the bar for his first of the season.
Cameron Jerome then stepped off the bench to double Stoke's lead and seemingly kill the game by lashing in an excellent shot with nine minutes of normal time remaining.
But Stoke made their fans sweat – even in these temperatures – before greeting the final whistle with a huge sigh of relief after a job well done.
Stoke, showing just the one change following Michael Kightly's replacement of Geoff Cameron in a 4-4-1-1, were given a rousing start from their fans – and very nearly rewarded with them when Peter Crouch threw himself at a far post corner and only just missed out.
Crouch did make contact with a Matthew Etherington cross five minutes later but his effort was into the ground and harmlessly wide, while a second cross from the same source was only half-headed into a defender by the former England striker.
Steven Nzonzi was breaking up the play well in midfield for Stoke and the home side were also shackling Pavel Pogrebnyak as the City goal reached the 20-minute mark comfortably intact.
Etherington's liveliness on the left was again apparent, meanwhile, when his low delivery forced the visiting keeper to grab at the base of his near post.
Kightly then cut in from the right following a Crouch flick on, but his weaker left foot couldn't generate the power to beat goalkeeper and a defender guarding the near post.
Stoke passed the half-hour mark firmly in the ascendancy – and drawing some noise from their sedate fans – and yet another high ball into the Reading area was half-cleared for Ryan Shawcross to improvise a volley which the keeper was forced to tip over.
The energetic Crouch then fired a shot on the run wide of the near post to underline Stoke's positive approach to the afternoon.
The best was yet to come, however, for shortly afterwards Kightly jinked his way into the area for a dinked cross towards the far stick that Crouch controlled on his chest before rifling a volley goalwards and seeing the keeper palm over.
City maintained the pressure from a string of corners, the second of which broke for Robert Huth's close-range shot to be superbly blocked by at least one defender.
Stoke were definitely into `they deserve to be ahead territory' by the time the half-time whistle arrived as some relief to Reading.
Half-time: Stoke 0, Reading 0.
A scrappy opening to the second period did nothing to lighten the mood of an evidently anxious home crowd.
Crouch was again causing problems in the air for the visitors, but his half-hit header bounced off a defender and into Adam Federici's grasp as Reading drew a sigh of relief.
The visitors were still struggling to build up a head of steam by the time their super sub Adam Le Fondre was thrown on in the 57th minute amid chants of "We'll score in a minute" from their fans behind the home goal.
Jerome Kenwyne Jones and Cameron Jerome were introduced midway through the second half to try and enliven a Stoke effort which remained both positive and unproductive.
And it worked. For within a couple of minutes Jon Walters was winning a left-wing corner after his close-range effort was deflected behind.
And Glenn Whelan's 67th minute flag-kick to the far stick was met by HUTH for a thumping header that crashed home via the underside of the cross bar.
No more than they deserved – but boy it was a long time in coming.
Le Fondre netted his customary goal with a thoroughly tidy finish, but hold on to your hats because the whistle had already gone for Pogrebnyak's handball.
Walters and Jones then linked well at the other end to force some desperate defending as Stoke sought that killer second with 12 minutes remaining.
Great work by Etherington prevented Reading causing trouble on the break as the Royals broke three against one at one point.
What a turning point that promised to be as Stoke were soon celebrating a brilliant second from Jerome.
A long ball forward was headed high into the air by a defender to leave Jerome not only controlling the dropping ball on his thigh, but then spinning and blasting a smashing shot across the keeper and into the far corner for 2-0.
Wouldn't you know it, though, Reading were quickly back in the contest and teeing up an tense old finale when a right-wing corner to the near post was headed in via Asmir Begovic's flailing arms by MARIAPPA.
The excitement continued as Federici failed to hold a deflected long-range shot from Whelan and Jon Walters just failed to convert the loose ball.
Stoke had to hold their nerve in the closing stages – and survive Ryan Shotton's collision with Le Fondre inside his own area – but the three points were theirs.
Stoke: Begovic, Shotton, Wilkinson (Cameron,84), Shawcross, Huth, Kightly (Jerome,65), Whelan, Nzonzi, Etherington, Walters, Crouch (Jones,65). Subs: Sorensen, Cameron, Owen, Adam, Whitehead.
Reading: Federici, Kelly, Harte, Pearce, Mariappa, Kebe, Akpan, Leigertwood, McAnuff (McCleary,73), Blackman (Le Fondre,57), Pogrebnyak (Hunt,80). Subs: Taylor, Shorey, Karacan, Morrison.
Referee: M Oliver (Lancs).
Cards: Stoke – Whelan (foul,73), Cameron (foul,90). Reading -none.