Premier League - Stoke pile misery on poor Wolves
Stoke City cruised to a 3-0 Premier League win at home to second-bottom Wolverhampton Wanderers, although victory was overshadowed by an injury to Matthew Etherington that could rule him out of the FA Cup final.
First-half goals from Kenwyne Jones and Ryan Shawcross gave Wolves an insurmountable task, strikes which sandwiched a freak hamstring injury to winger Etherington, who was stretchered off in agony and is a serious doubt for the Wembley clash with Manchester City on May 14.
Pennant added a deflected third and, while Wolves had lots of possession and won a flurry of corners, Mick McCarthy’s side lacked the cutting edge of injured strikers Kevin Doyle and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake as they fell to a 19th league defeat of the season.
Wolves stay a point ahead of bottom club West Ham, one point shy of safety but with four winnable games in the run-in, while Stoke rise to ninth with a fourth consecutive season of Premier League football a formality for Tony Pulis’s side.
Any worries that the home side would ease off after the 5-0 FA Cup semi-final win over Bolton were put to bed with a trademark bustling performance, every Potters player putting in a determined shift and throwing in some crunching tackles to boot.
Wolves kept the ball well enough but, with left-back George Elokobi absent through injury and in-form winger Pennant marauding down the Stoke right, they failed to deal with the threat from wide and were made to pay.
Robert Huth gave them ample warning by putting just wide from a Pennant set-play before Jones’s 16th-minute opener, a powerful downward header from the former Arsenal, Liverpool, Birmingham and Zaragoza winger’s wonderfully floated cross.
Wayne Hennessey made a terrific stop from Andy Wilkinson after a delightful Pennant through-ball released the overlapping full-back, while Jones put wide after a poor first-touch made his finish difficult.
Then came the Etherington blow as the left winger, one of Stoke’s best players this season, went down unchallenged, clutching his hamstring and carried off in tears with the FA Cup final less than three weeks away.
The injury put a dampener on proceedings but Stoke did not lose concentration, dominating the rest of the half.
Jones spurned an identical chance to the opening goal when he headed over from near the penalty spot, Hennessey caught in no-man’s land after a surprisingly bendy cross from Jonathan Walters, while the Wolves keeper made two saves in quick succession just before the break.
First he spread himself to deny Dean Whitehead, who was put clean through again by Pennant, and entering injury-time he palmed over Shawcross’s header from a free-kick by the ubiquitous Pennant.
It was not enough though as Shawcross completed the job with a tap-in from the subsequent corner, which was a training-ground routine that saw Pennant drill a low pass to the edge of the box that Glenn Whelan fired onwards.
Wolves started the second half with more intent, bossing possession and winning a half-dozen corners early on, but Stoke hit them on the break to end any hopes of a comeback with almost 40 minutes left.
Jones led a counter-attack, finding Walters wide right whose cross was deflected into the path of Pennant, whose low finish struck the legs of Jody Craddock before looping over the helpless Hennessey and in.
The visitors continued to press, winning seemingly endless corners but only yielding two half-chances from them: Steven Fletcher was kept at bay by Asmir Begovic, while Christophe Berra headed another over.
The last quarter was a slog though as Wolves seemed content to exercise damage limitation, while Stoke protected the likes of Pennant and Rory Delap by giving run-outs to Danny Pugh and Salif Diao - they had the better chances too, as Walters and Whitehead both had good efforts go just off target.
But the match had petered out for both sides as Stoke cemented their status as a solid, mid-table side. Wolves, meanwhile, must look to win at least two of their four remaining games - with Birmingham, West Brom, Sunderland and Blackburn to come, they could well stay in the division at the expense of one or more of those sides.