Stoke City: Stato Sam gets bemoans poor defending as his protege bags winner
HIS expression was as gloomy as a Ryder Cup sky, so no-one expected to feel too uplifted after Sam Allardyce had squelched into the press conference and wrung out his eyebrows, writes Michael Baggaley.
He tried a steady drip of statistics – this was Stoke's first league clean sheet and Rovers' first blank in front of goal – but had not cheered himself up by the time he suggested Chris Samba was half-soaked for letting Jon Walters through to score City's 48th-minute winner.
So far, so miserable. And yet suddenly the sun came out as Big Sam was asked about Walters, a player he had signed at Bolton nine years ago.
This was only a happy reunion for Walters, but Allardyce was gracious in his assessment of a player who moved on to Hull, Wrexham and Chester before leaving Ipswich for Stoke in a £3.25m deal in August.
Allardyce said: "He has done exceptionally well. It has taken dedication and hard work and maximising his abilities to finally find himself back at the top level of football where he wanted to be as a youngster.
"Full marks to him because it has been a long journey for him. He moved on to the lower divisions and today you don't often see a young man go down the leagues and get back to the very top level.
"I'm gutted he scored today, but it is great to see someone with a desire and dedication to learn their trade and work their way back."
Allardyce the manager learned his craft in the lower divisions, as did Tony Pulis, so both would have appreciated that City's victory was thanks in no small part to players who served an apprenticeship in League Two.
Walters will not get the crowd on its feet as often as Ricardo Fuller can, but his value to the team was obvious in the first half when he chased El-Hadji Diouf all the way to the Stoke corner flag to win possession back for his side.
That said, Walters is probably fed up with the faint praise of being labelled a "hard-working" striker, so he will have taken huge satisfaction from his clinical finish after he was released by Matthew Etherington on 48 minutes.
The performance would have been good enough to win Walters man of the match on another day, but the sponsors were right to give that award to the superb Dean Whitehead.
The former Oxford United midfielder ran the show, winning challenges and getting the ball out to Matthew Etherington and Jermaine Pennant to hurt Rovers from the wings.
When Stoke had to defend, there was no-one more accomplished than left-back Danny Collins, formerly of Chester City and Vauxhall Motors.
For large parts of last season, it seemed as though Collins had been signed to share scapegoat duties with Mama Sidibe, but he cannot fail to win over critics in the stands with his current performances.
With Etherington in form on the left wing, City had too much for a Rovers team which looked sunk from the moment they fell behind as they struggled to combat a confident team and buoyant crowd.
For proof that the crowd directly affects the game, look no further than Diouf's 54th-minute substitution.
Allardyce said he had not taken the forward off because he was playing badly, but because he feared he was heading for a sending off following his 46th-minute booking for shoving Pennant.
Diouf looked Rovers' most dangerous forward, but had been getting wound up by the crowd, a fact obvious when he responded to the jeers of his substitution by waving ironically at the Boothen End and pointing to his name on his shirt.
The Rovers fans were also in decent voice, at least before the goal, having marked the kick off by chanting "One John Taylor" in memory of the Blackburn supporter who died at this fixture last season after suffering head injuries in the concourse.
There were only 1,200 travelling supporters in the 25,515 attendance, so it was no surprise that this was City's third lowest Premier League crowd, beating only the two previous visits of Fulham.
But the home fans could not have any complaints as Stoke tore into Rovers to dominate a game that was expertly handled by World Cup final referee Howard Webb.
City did not need the luxury of calling on their substitutes to change the game, but with Ricardo Fuller, Eidur Gudjohnsen and Tuncay they had plenty of possibilities.
Praise is also due to Jermaine Pennant who had not done Stoke's hard but fair reputation much good on his debut against Aston Villa when he dived to win the free-kick that led to City's winner.
Maybe he's been re-educated by Pulis since then because, having been taken out by Gael Givet, Pennant got up and limped away up the line rather than stay down until the defender got booked.
Some would call that a lower division mentality. This game was all the better for it.