Stoke stumbled their way to a 2-0 victory over a thankfully lacklustre Watford side at a cold and uninspired bet365 Stadium; a result that take's Mark Hughes' men up to 11th in the league. It was a frustrating night for the fans who came to watch their team's best players but instead found them on the bench behind a number of the old guard who were once again preferred.
It was a contest unlocked via the improbable boot of captain Ryan Shawcross who gave the home side some breathing space seconds before the half-time break. Their second arrived shortly after the restart following more failed attempts at defending by the visitors, whose equally impotent efforts at the other end of the pitch saw the Potters hang on to emerge victorious.
A very poor Watford side more than played their part in Stoke getting back to winning ways and a late shift back to the usual shape of 4-2-3-1 was thankfully the comfort blanket needed to see out an important victory.
It was a win but one that papers over a number of cracks that many fear will come back against more capable opponents in the coming weeks. Such an archaic gameplan with so much talent on the bench is a very real concern and raises a number of questions about some of the manager's signings in recent windows.
Manager rating out of 10
5 -- While victory was achieved, it was another uninspiring team selection and tactical set-up from Hughes, who decided that long balls up to an aging front line were his best chance of a first win in six games. There were five players on the bench that most would place in their top ten at the club yet they continue to kick their heels in frustration, watching on in disbelief.
The end does not always justify the means.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Lee Grant, 7 -- Had little to do for the most part but commanded his area well when the visitors managed to get a set piece and the opportunity to pack his penalty area.
DF Glen Johnson, 7 -- Hardly his most testing game but used his skill and experience well to get the better of his opponent when pinned against the by-line.
DF Ryan Shawcross, 8 -- Had a relatively quiet game at the back bar a slightly nervous period towards the end. His goal came at the perfect time and he could well have had a second from another corner.
DF Bruno Martins Indi, 7 -- Used the ball well with both short and long passes but left the aerial duties up to Shawcross; winning just one of the headers he himself contested.
MF Mame Diouf, 6 -- Played most of the game on the front foot but struggled to make a difference in the final third. Was perhaps more effective in defence, making a couple of important clearances and blocks before his removal on the 67-minute mark.
MF Joe Allen, 7 -- A quieter game than usual in a deeper midfield role, though, tried his best to run beyond the strikers when numbers were short up-field.
MF Charlie Adam, 8 -- Positively affected the game with a couple of good deliveries but there were many more that frustrated. Physically accosted by Pieters after his second shot on goal from the halfway line in the first half.
MF Erik Pieters, 7 -- A mixed game from the Dutchman who linked well with Marko Arnautovic but struggled to make his deliveries from wide count; succeeding with just one of his six crosses.
MF Marko Arnautovic, 7 -- Seemingly expected to produce something from nothing amid a front line entirely devoid of movement or pace. Found more favour once the shape was changed and he was allowed to stay wide left.
FW Jon Walters, 6 -- Added little to a largely ineffective front line and his lack of pace was exposed further still with none around him to compensate. Spurned two good, albeit difficult, chances to get his side's third.
FW Peter Crouch, 7 -- Once again the focal point of the majority of the side's attacks but very little actually came of him winning balls in the air in the first period. Had more joy in the second half and ended the game with a goal after some poor Watford defending saw the ball find him and bounce in off his knee.
MF Glenn Whelan, N/R -- Helped shore up an increasingly nervous defence in the latter stages of the game when the side were under pressure.
FW Ibrahim Afellay, 8 -- Looked the team's most dangerous player with his quick feet and intelligent play. Unlucky not to score with a rasping drive that went just wide.