Fletcher strike fires Stoke in tale of the unexpected
This was just what Mark Hughes needed. With the pressure mounting on the Stoke manager after a poor start to the season, two unexpected things happened: Stoke won away and Darren Fletcher scored.
The latter is a hugely satisfying event for a player, who also broke the current Premier League consecutive appearances record – 101 – having suffered from ulcerative colitis for much of his career.
Not a bad time to score his first Stoke goal, then. It was straight off the training ground, a Xherdan Shaqiri corner to the edge of the box, where Fletcher expertly drove in a volley past Heurelho Gomes.
“Believe it or not, we do work on setpieces,” smiled Hughes. “Having watched Fletch have a couple of attempts, I wasn’t sure whether we were going to do it. The only disappointment was that he didn’t volley it like I used to. He sidefooted it.”
Fletcher ran straight to his manager for a hug as the two men celebrated an important moment for them both.
This was not a good game, and other than Fletcher’s milestone little happened until the final frenetic moments when frustrations boiled over and Michael Oliver began throwing yellow cards around like confetti at a wedding.
The Hornets had neither buzz nor sting and were able to create little against Stoke’s three towering central defenders.
“We didn’t play in the first half,” said their manager, Marco Silva. “We gave a big gift for them in the goal we conceded. We lost completely our focus. We played too slow.”
The two best chances went the way of Richarlison. Firstly he fired into the side-netting from a tight angle after Andre Carrillo’s header found him at the back post. Later, from the same position, he headed wide when unchallenged.