Stoke City 5, Hull City 1
Powell (11,86), Campbell (pen,16), Clucas (18,50); da Silva Lopes (73)
It takes a special kind of player, and an awful kind of injury, to leave a sour taste in the mouth after a 5-1 home win.
Joe Allen’s predicament was all the worse to witness at the time because he was left alone, bar a couple of physios, after going to ground just seconds before the half-time whistle had emptied the pitch.
His absence in the second half was immaterial to a game in which Stoke dominated with embarrassing ease and, given events in recent years, with unprecedented ease.
But we would be naive to think his absence from the remaining nine games will be equally irrelevant, not when far stiffer examinations lie in wait.
His mobility, tenacity and defensive awareness are qualities his manager will do well to replace without anyone noticing the join.
At least Allen leaves behind a set of players now enjoying their loftiest position yet in this truly wretched season.
They simply had to beat Hull, a team given up for dead by many of their fans judging by their paltry if spirited following at the bet365, but they didn’t just beat them, they out-classed them in every single facet of the game you care to mention.
Scoring five at home – for the first time since 6-1 against Liverpool five years ago – leaves their goal difference at least four better than any of their relegation rivals, while no other bottom-half club has scored more goals.
With Sam Clucas scoring yet again against a former club, Nick Powell’s keen and crafty eye for his own ends, and that of others, and Tyrese Campbell’s power, Stoke were simply irresistible at times against a Hull side shipping goals and spirit in equal measure after losing so many of their better players one way or another.
It’s dog eat dog down at the bottom and Stoke were able and willing to kick Hull while they were down after two points from their last 30.
Since Michael O’Neill took charge – a kind of Year Zero if you like – Stoke have begun to enjoy playing in front of their own fans once again and this victory made it a healthy 24 points from a possible 33.
It was a victory never in doubt, really, once they had opened the scoring in only the 11th minute when Tom Ince, always fancying opposition of this calibre, and Tommy Smith, improving game-by-game almost, combined for the latter to dink to the far post for Powell to head into the roof of the net via the keeper’s flimsy hands.
There was a rare, ruthless look about a home side smelling blood as Mick Pennington then inexplicably handled a right-wing corner to leave Campbell slotting home a penalty for 2-0 just two minutes later.
And we really were into unchartered territory when there was a third goal in seven minutes after Campbell powered into the box before his shot ricocheted for Clucas to stroke firmly and precisely into the corner for 3-0.
Some in the crowd thought it was 4-0 after only 22 minutes, too, but Powell missed the target by a foot after clipping past the on-rushing goalkeeper.
Rampant was the only way to describe Stoke as Campbell bore down on the goalkeeper before missing out, while Clucas fired goalwards to force George Long to parry round his near post.
The Hull manager seemed to be waving a white flag at one stage, but was maybe blowing his nose as his defenders continued to practice self-isolation.
Some of their challenges bore the hallmark of a desperate team, but to be fair to Dan Batty there wasn’t much he could do to avoid the slight collision which preceded Allen’s ruptured Achilles.
The departure of such a popular and admired comrade would have done nothing to nullify Stoke’s desire for more goals and by the 50th minute they had a fourth.
Jordan Thompson, whose work in open play was highly impressive, floated a free-kick into a crowded box for Danny Batth to head across goal to leave Clucas nodding the ball back across the keeper for his second of the afternoon and his tenth of the season.
There might have been a fifth, but Smith’s exquisite cross was headed back by Powell instead of going for goal, while Ince drilled narrowly wide off his weaker right foot.
Hull might not have deserved a goal, but their defiant following did, and they were rewarded when left back Callum Elder pulled a low ball back for Leonardo da Silva Lopes to bury a free shot.
That merely tweaked the nose of a home side wanting more, however, as Campbell took on two players before letting fly with a shot the keeper parried, Powell’s wonderfully disguised pass released Ince for a cross-shot and a Clucas piledriver cannoned off a head and over the bar.
But they weren’t to be denied and Tashan Oakley-Boothe, Allen’s lively half-time replacement, suitably embroidered his Stoke debut with a little faint to the left of the Hull goal before nut-megging a defender for Powell to sweep home.
Somewhere deep in the bowels of the bet365 Stadium, not far from the treatment room, a pair of crutches were no doubt raised into the air to help celebrate the moment.
Forever a team player.