Date: 24th December 2007 at 1:48am
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THERE was one positive to come out of West Bromwich Albion`s trip to the Britannia Stadium on Saturday – they won`t have to meet Stoke City in the Championship again this season.

The 26-year hoodoo that has shaped the fortunes of the Baggies on each of their trips to Stoke since 1982 was evidenced as early as the fifth minute when Ricardo Fuller gave the home side the lead after clearly bringing the ball under control with his hand.

Neither the referee nor his assistant saw it and from then on it was an uphill struggle for the Albion.

We`ve all applauded Tony Mowbray`s attacking philosophy, which has produced a wonderfully entertaining team to watch this season.

But you sometimes wonder if we`re not becoming too one-dimensional, too easily knocked out of our stride by wily opponents.

Yet, we all knew only too well what the Stoke approach to the game would be. That our passing game would founder on the rocks of a rugged home defence and midfield.

And so it proved.

Albion lacked the steel to compete in midfield and the authority at the back to defend with conviction.

Fuller claimed his second on 38 minutes as Albion failed to defend a free kick into the box, the Jamaican striker sneaking in unmarked at the far post.

Albion had more than their far share of possession in the first half but much of the time it was well out of range of the Stoke goal.

Andrade Filipe Teixeira and Chris Brunt in particular found it hard going against tight markers and were replaced at half time as the Mowbray took the brave decision of switching to a straightforward 4-3-3, with Ishmael Miller and Kevin Phillips joining Roman Bednar up front.

It was adventurous and up to a point it worked, as the Albion dominated second-half possession.

Stoke were happy to sit back and absorb the pressure, looking to break when the opportunity arose, as it did in the 66th minute when Fuller raced away to complete his hat trick after leaving Bostjan Cesar and Pedro Pele trailing in his wake.

Roman Bednar pulled one back six minutes later, his sixth goal in six games, but by then the Potters had the points well and truly gift-wrapped and sitting under the Christmas tree.

Albion get the chance to get back on track on Boxing Day (Wednesday) when promotion rivals Bristol City visit The Hawthorns (3pm).

Stoke City (4-4-2): Simonsen, Wilkinson, Shawcross, Cort, Pugh, Lawrence, Eustace, Delap, Cresswell, Sidibe (Dickinson 84), Fuller (Parkin 90). Subs not used: Hoult, Zakuani, Pulis.

West Bromwich Albion (4-4-1-1): Kiely, Hoefkens, Cesar (Albrechtsen 68), Pele, Robinson, Gera, Greening, Koren, Filipe Teixeira (Phillips 46), Brunt (Miller 46), Bednar. Subs not used: Steele, Morrison.

Scorers – Stoke City: Fuller 5, 38, 66; West Bromwch Albion: Bednar 72.

Bookings – West Bromwich Albion: Brunt (17), Cesar (37).

Referee: Mark Halsey (Lancashire)