Fletcher rocket eases pres­sure on Hughes

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SOCCER -

DARREN Fletcher volleyed his first goal for Stoke to take the wind out of Wat­ford’s sails. The Hor­nets were look­ing to ce­ment their place in the top six, but Fletcher’s Paul Sc­holes-style strike from the edge of the area se­cured a first away win of the sea­son for the Pot­ters.

The vic­tory also eased the pres­sure on Stoke man­ager Mark Hughes, fol­low­ing four de­feats in five matches.

Wat­ford started with all the con­fi­dence of a team kick­ing off in sixth place in the Premier League, with wingers An­dre Car­rillo and Richarli­son look­ing in par­tic­u­larly men­ac­ing mood. But for all their swag­ger in the first 15 min­utes, they could not find a way past the massed ranks at the back for Stoke.

In­stead, with their first cor­ner, the vis­i­tors took the lead cour­tesy of Fletcher. The strike was one his old Manch­ester United team-mate Sc­holes would have been proud of, as the mid­fielder met Xher­dan Shaqiri’s cross with a crisp vol­ley from the edge of the area.

The ball may have taken a slight de­flec­tion on its way un­der­neath Hor­nets goal­keeper Heurelho Gomes, but Fletcher did not care as he raced to cel­e­brate with Hughes on the touch­line.

The clos­est Wat­ford came to equal­is­ing be­fore half-time was also from a cor­ner, Miguel Bri­tos head­ing a Jose Hole­bas cross nar­rowly wide. They came closer still shortly after the in­ter­val when Car­rillo headed an­other Hole­bas de­liv­ery back across goal from where Richarli­son fired into the side-net­ting.

Stoke had their mo­ments early in the sec­ond half, not least when Ra­madan Sobhi raced to the by­line and cut back for Joe Allen, who dragged his shot wide.

But Wat­ford piled for­ward and Richarli­son, who was guilty of two bad misses in the 4-2 de­feat at Chelsea last week­end, blew an­other chance by nod­ding a Bri­tos cross wide at the far post.

Pot­ters substitute Saido Ber­ahino should have wrapped things up six min­utes from time when he raced through but prod­ded his shot wide to pro­long his search for a Stoke goal. Ab­doulaye Doucoure and Mame Bi­ram Diouf were booked after squar­ing up, and an­other melee in in­jury-time saw Allen and Troy Deeney go into the book.

Sec­onds later Char­lie Adam skipped past Gomes, who had gone up for a cor­ner, but when he rolled the ball to­wards an empty net it came back off a post.

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