Stoke tame the Tigers
It's often said that playing badly and winning is the measure of a good side; Stoke certainly did that as they scrapped their way to a 1-0 win over Hull City on Saturday. - Report: Stoke 1-0 Hull City It has been a magnificent March for the Potters and this latest win sees them open up a six point gap between themselves and the bottom half of the table. Saturday's win made it four in their last five, but it was far from the commanding performances that preceded it this month. It was always going to be a difficult game: Hull set up to be hard to break down by putting the onus firmly on Stoke to seize the initiative. That their tactics coincided with an off day for the hosts made for a frustrating first half which saw an unholy amount of unforced errors from both sides. It seemed that every other pass was a bad one -- either too much pace, too little, too far in front, too far behind and all too often just straight into touch. The tone was set by Stoke's Marc Wilson who played his first pass from kickoff straight to the opposition, but he was far from the worst culprit as Glen Whelan and Eric Pieters, in particular, put forth poor performances rivalled only by the referee and their team. In fact there was only one man who was taking the game by the scruff of the neck and that was Steven N'Zonzi who appeared all over the pitch to try and kickstart the side's moves. He was collecting the ball in defence and running it into midfield, getting it back and carrying it into the final third and even getting off some shots on goal of his own. Stoke's often temperamental Frenchman has been a revelation since his return from suspension and the bench and in this match he was the only real player who could hold his head high after 90 minutes. It's difficult to go into who played poorly because quite simply it was everyone else in red and white, but given the heroics each had performed throughout the month I think it's fair enough to cut them some slack and allow them a bad day at the office, especially when they came through with all three points. This win makes it 40 points now for Stoke, the figure generally accepted as guaranteeing safety for another season, though I expect it will be one much less than that given the number of teams in the mix. It's a huge achievement for manager Mark Hughes in his first season, given the level of transition on the pitch and to achieve that figure at this stage is a credit to his perseverance, attitude and flexibility. His methods have truly shone through this month and I'm glad that many of his detractors are now starting to furiously backtrack on their opinions. That this impressive run comes at a time of season ticket renewals is a huge bonus for the club and record-breaking early sales would suggest that it has more than played its part. That run will tested to the maximum next week against Chelsea who, despite Jose Mourinho's protestations to the contrary, are very much still in the hunt for the title. To win at Stamford Bridge would be a huge ask of the side, but if there is something that I know this group are more than capable of -- something the fans have been given this season -- is belief. You get the feeling that is the case in the dressing room too as players that many had written off last season have seen a new lease of life under the new gaffer. That's not to suggest that a result at Chelsea is a given, in fact it's most likely Stoke will feel the wrath of a side embarrassed by Crystal Palace in their last game. A loss to the Blues would be far from a disaster and hopefully the fans would see such a result for what it was -- the end of a magnificent run. There are plenty more points to play for and with the manager wanting to break any number of club records, you can bet your mortgage on the fact he won’t let the players lift their foot off the gas.