Stoke City: Christmas comes early for Stoke as Baggies hand out their tradition gift
IS December 1 too early to go out in public dressed as Father Christmas?
If you are an undertaker or the new governor of the Bank of England, the answer is probably yes. If you are a Stoke fan at the Hawthorns, then what the hell – go for it.
After all, every Stoke visit to West Brom is party-time for the travelling Potters.
So the five Santa Claus Stokies near the back of the away end didn't look remotely out of place (apologies, by the way, if you were just wearing red jackets and had made particularly impressive efforts for Movember).
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Stoke have now won 14 away matches in the Premier League since they were promoted in 2008. Incredibly, four of those were at West Brom. And it could well have been five, but the Baggies were in the Championship for one of those seasons.
Yet City's hold over their Midlands rivals was supposed to have ended when West Brom won at the Britannia Stadium last season, their first victory at Stoke for nearly 30 years.
After that result, you would have thought West Brom would have been licking their lips at the prospect of welcoming Stoke into their lair, a bit like Wile E. Coyote having unexpectedly discovered how to catch the Road Runner.
Instead, the home fans were subdued while Baggies boss Steve Clarke didn't show much faith in his fifth-placed team by making six changes to the side who lost at Swansea in mid-week.
Tony Pulis made just the one change as Kenwyne Jones came in for Peter Crouch, who was unavailable after an operation to replace the teeth he had knocked out by Newcastle's Fabricio Coloccini last week.
You can't blame Crouch for not wanting to spend the rest of the season looking like an elongated Albert Steptoe, although a few Stoke strikers down the years have been accused of playing like his horse.
That's not something that can be levelled at City's current forwards. Crouch bravely volunteered to play in this game, but was understandably rested on doctor's orders.
In his absence, Kenwyne Jones showed what he can offer as he brought some power and pace into the attack.
Crouch's touch, technique and finishing are all top class while his attitude and work rate have also been faultless since his £10m move to the Potteries.
However, when Jones is in this form, Stoke have a credible alternative to the England hit-man as their lone striker.
By chasing down Jonas Olsson, he forced the defender to give the ball away to Michael Kightly. The winger headed straight for the West Brom penalty area and then crossed for fellow substitute Dean Whitehead to score the 75th-minute winner.
It wasn't the only time Jones had bullied central defenders Olsson and Gareth McAuley.
Stoke set up defensively to stop West Brom hitting them on the counter attack, so more often than not Jones was left on his own up front.
That didn't stop him holding the ball up, turning defenders or "chasing his own flick-ons", as Ryan Shawcross put it.
Shawcross was just as impressive as Jones in a Stoke side who didn't look like conceding their first goal in five visits to the Hawthorns. Mind you, Steven Nzonzi has been so influential it might be fairer to disqualify him from man-of-the-match consideration just to give the other players a chance of winning it.
The bloke never looks hurried in possession while, time and again, he stretched out a leg to win the ball as another West Brom attack was snuffed out before it reached the Stoke area.
He also seems to be bringing the best out of Glenn Whelan, whose own form this season has been superb.
We tend to take wins at West Brom for granted these days, so it's worth pointing out that this was a victory over a team who had won six of their seven home games this term, the only defeat being to champions Manchester City.
However, you, you get the feeling the Baggies would prefer to play anybody than Stoke.
Their midfielder, Zoltan Gera, pretty much confirmed this after the game when he looked forward to their trip to the Emirates next week.
He was at pains not to criticise Stoke's more direct style or make excuses.
However, he did say: "We know Arsenal is a very difficult game, but I am sure it will be better for us to play against Arsenal than Stoke."
Ho, ho, ho, as they were saying at the back of the away end.