Robins rocked by classy Butland
JACK BUTLAND produced a world-class late save to seal a precious victory for Stoke over Bristol City at Ashton Gate.
The goalkeeper threw himself to his left on his line to block a goal-bound shot from Niclas Eliasson with an outstretched glove after 87 minutes with his side under heavy pressure.
Stoke boss Gary Rowett said: “You won’t see a more outstanding goalkeeping display. I have worked with Jack and Jordan Pickford, and Jack has all the attributes Jordan possesses.”
The visitors had taken a 34th-minute lead when Bristol City failed to deal with a cross into their box from the left and Joe Allen’s header fell into the path of Darren Fletcher, who had time to control the ball on his chest before lashing a leftfooted volley past Max O’Leary from 10 yards.
It wasn’t the hosts’ day as they hit the bar twice and failed to find a finish, despite dominating much of the second period. After an opening half hour in which neither side created much, the game sprang to life, with Tom Ince latching on to an attempted clearance by Bristol defender Tomas Kalas and sending a left-footed volley narrowly wide.
The home side went straight up the other end and fashioned their first opening, Jack Hunt doing well to direct a long diagonal ball from Adam Webster across goal and Famara Diedhiou striking the angle of post and crossbar with a header.
Then came Fletcher’s goal and it proved one of his last contributions as he was forced off by injury after 41 minutes, Charlie Adam going on as replacement.
Tomas Kalas had a header saved, Diedhiou sent an overJORDAN head kick wide and Callum O’Dowda had a low shot blocked as Bristol tried to get on terms before the break.
After the interval, Eric Pieters stung the hands of O’Leary with a 30-yard effort before Bristol began to gain momentum. A series of promising raids saw Butland need two attempts to deal with a Liam Walsh strike from distance.
Jamie Paterson’s shot was then parried by Butland into the path of Eliasson, who failed to control the ball with the goal at his mercy.
Diedhiou headed against the woodwork for the second time in the match and Marlon Pack’s rebound effort was cleared off the line with Stoke defending desperately.
Rowett added: “Jack had a lot of family and friends in the crowd. If it makes him play like that, I’ll get him 20 tickets for every game and lay on a coach for them!
“We rode our luck at times and had to put bodies on the line. But we were the better side in the first half and deserved to go in front.
“Now we are five points off the play-offs and we haven’t played to our best yet. It’s where we are come April that matters.”
Bristol boss Gary Johnson said: “I am very frustrated. Part of me wants to say how well we played in the second half, but history won’t remember that.
“The ball just wouldn’t go in for us. Butland has made some unbelievable saves, but the quality of our finishing could have been better.”
FLETCH THAT: Darren Fletcher (centre) celebrates scoring the only goal of the game as Stoke handed Bristol City a rare defeat at Ashton Gate
COUNTER-ATTACK: Saido Berahino leads the charge for Stoke