Stoke City have returned to winning ways in the Sky Bet Championship with a gritty 1-0 win at Bristol City.
Veteran midfielder Darren Fletcher grabbed the only goal of the game from close range in the first half while The Potters survived some pretty intense second half pressure to protect their one-goal advantage with goalkeeper Jack Butland putting in a Man of the Match performance.
The first half took time to get going in bitterly cold conditions at Ashton Gate. Tom Ince fired a shot from range wide of the near post for the visitors while Famara Diedhiou also curled an effort from the edge of the box off target.
It was after the half hour mark when the chances started to flow. First an Ince volley flashed wide before Diedhiou’s looping header struck the crossbar at the other end.
The opening goal came moments later and it was the visitors who netted first when Benik Afobe headed a cross into the path of Fletcher who fired the ball into the roof of the net.
Bristol City pushed for an equaliser before the break but they found Stoke City keeper Butland alert to the danger as he made himself big to block a Tomas Kalas header.
The home side made a double substitution at the interval with Jay Dasilva and Liam Walsh both coming on and The Robins quickly went in search of an equaliser but Kalas couldn’t keep his header down following a free-kick.
Erik Pieters then saw a thumping strike from range pushed away by home keeper Max O’Leary before opposite number Butland almost dropped a Walsh shot into his own net.
Bristol City started to throw the kitchen sink at The Potters and only a fine last-ditch clearance from Tom Edwards denied Diedhiou a tap-in. Jamie Paterson was also unlucky not to score as Butland pushed away his venomous strike from the left before the Stoke City defence scrambled the ball to safety.
Striker Diedhiou was a constant threat and the player saw another headed effort strike the bar while Marlon Pack couldn’t force the resulting loose ball into the net. The Robins midfielder later saw a header clawed away by Butland as the pressure continued to be piled on Gary Rowett’s Stoke City side.
Visiting keeper Butland was tipped with a move to a bigger club in the summer and the player showed his quality as he almost single-handedly kept his side in front. He pulled off a superb save at full stretch to deny Pack a certain goal late on.
Bristol City had their goalkeeper to thank themselves in second half injury time as O’Leary did well to tip an Afobe effort over the bar to keep the scoreline at 1-0 as their winning run came to an end.