LONDON (Reuters) – Once viewed as a team more likely to kick you up in the air than pass you off the pitch, Stoke City are doing their best to live up to the new, if scarcely believable, ‘Stokealona’ moniker.
A thrilling 4-3 victory at Everton on Monday lifted the Potters to eighth in the Premier League, following on from wins this month over Manchester City and Manchester United, as well as against Chelsea in November.
The contributions of ex-Barcelona men Bojan Krkic and Ibrahim Afellay have helped create the comparison by one Catalan newspaper and while the windy confines of the Britannia Stadium are a far cry from the Nou Camp, once-maligned Stoke are pleasing the purists.
Austrian striker Marko Arnautovic converted a stoppage-time penalty, his seventh league goal of the season, to seal a come-from-behind win at Goodison Park after Stoke had led 2-1 and then trailed 3-2.
Spaniard Joselu was on target while Swiss international Xherdan Shaqiri scored his first two goals since a record 12 million pounds ($17.86 million) move from Inter Milan in August, including a sweet first-time half-volley that flummoxed Everton keeper Tim Howard.
“It’s a beautiful goal and an important goal for the team. The ball was good and deep from Bojan, the finish was good too. I really enjoyed looking back at it on the TV but more important was the three points,” Shaqiri told the BBC.
“It was a beautiful game for the people inside the stadium. Everton were very good too. I feel better game by game and you will see that on the pitch.”
Shaqiri’s move to unfashionable Stoke on a five-year deal was described by former German international Stefan Effenberg as “all about money”.
Manager Mark Hughes dismissed those claims at the time and on Monday hailed the contribution of a player who was part of the Bayern Munich squad that won the 2014 Champions League.
“It takes time to understand what is required at Premier League level. It doesn’t matter what level you have played at before, the Premier League is a big ask,” added Hughes.
“The only thing lacking up until today for Shaqiri was goals, performances had been fine, but now he has added that. He has that quality, it’s his first mark in terms of goals and I’m sure there will be more to come.”
(Reporting by Justin Palmer; Editing by Tony Jimenez)