Fletcher strike fires Stoke in tale of the un­ex­pected

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Football - By Tom Pren­tki at Vicarage Road

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.

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