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Aug 31, 2014

Stoke deserved shock win at Man City

It is a sad indictment of the Premier League that a side beating another that finished eight places above it is such a shock to the footballing world, but that's exactly what happened as Stoke dared to leave Manchester City's Etihad Stadium with all three points after a 1-0 win.

This was Stoke's first win in Manchester since their return to the top flight, in the 13th attempt, and it was a man wearing that same number -- Victor Moses -- who shone out on the left in his league debut for the club.

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Stoke fans didn't know what to expect from their latest addition but, following a decent game in the Carling Cup midweek, were quietly optimistic he was the flying winger the side has been missing. That optimism appears to have been well-placed after he tormented another debutant, Bacary Sagna, turning him inside out and crucially keeping the marauding defender firmly pinned back.

For someone who has seen such little action in recent times, Moses had a magnificent work rate, and his eagerness to track back with such fervour and determination was a welcome surprise. Ultimately, it was one of those sprints back to the defensive byline that proved one stretch too many and he departed to a warm and most deserved applause from fans who can't wait to see more of the same.

I have said that a pacy, tricky and direct wide man will thrive in this system, much as Oussama Assaidi did last season. Marko Arnautovic praised his teammates on Twitter and will undoubtedly be equally as impressed by his replacement, though it may impede his own chances of reclaiming that berth on the left. To have the two different options is testament to the squad that Mark Hughes has put together, and there is certainly room for both talents in the side. I just hope they are able to stay fit all season.

The man of the match for me, however, was Steven N'Zonzi. The much-criticised, sulky Frenchman turned in the most mature performance I have seen from him. I use the word mature as it seems fitting for a man who, on the day, made all the right decisions both personally and for the team as he dropped in to cover his defensive colleagues.

N'Zonzi was key to all of Stoke's moves upfield too. He used the ball intelligently as he quickly weighed whether an offensive or defensive pass was the best to make. He made a point of carrying the ball forward, something I was crying out for last week, and not for the first time genuinely got the better of his more illustrious direct opponent, Yaya Toure.

Mame Diouf's superb solo goal clinched Stoke's first win of the season.

I almost feel guilty picking those two out, such was the disciplined and courageous performance of the group as a whole -- bar the disappointing Charlie Adam. Special mentions must also go to Phil Bardsley, Ryan Shawcross, Peter Crouch and Mame Diouf, who all played more than their part in such an impressive showing. It was a performance the fans wanted and exactly what they got; the fact that it was accompanied by an unexpected three points make things all the sweeter as the side goes into the international break sitting pretty in the top 10.

It has been a case of back to basics for Hughes, much as was last season after a relatively slow start. Popular pundit and ex-Stoke defender Danny Higginbotham talked about winning the battle first and playing football second, and that's exactly what happened. It wasn't especially pretty at times, but Saturday's win was a master class in discipline, organisation and application, three crucial ingredients that perfectly complement Hughes' attacking style and make his Stoke side tick.

- Highlights (U.S. only): Man City 0-1 Stoke
- Hughes hails match-winner Diouf

It wasn't a case of "parking the bus" either; such an assertion is incredibly unfair to a side that was more than brave when the opportunity arose to break forward. That the manager has the wherewithal to make such changes to the shape and style of the side is a positive sign and another indication that he is happy to try something else when Plan A isn't working. This is something Stoke fans haven't seen too often in recent history.

While the wider footballing community continues to search for reasons why Manchester City lost the game, Stoke fans will be celebrating another brilliant performance from their side, one that will hopefully kick-start the season and be a platform for a nice unbeaten run once the team returns from a well-earned break.

The fortnight off might also give those fans calling for Diouf to be shipped back to Hannover and for Tony Pulis to be brought back as manager -- barely two games into the season -- the chance to take a close look at themselves and decide exactly where their loyalties lie.

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