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Maccabi Tel-Av vs Stoke City
 1 - 2 
Date: 
Thu Nov 03 18:00:00 GMT 2011
Venue: 
Unknown
Attendance: 
10368
Referee: 
Duarte Gomes

STOKE City took a giant step towards qualification for the final 32 of the UEFA Europa League after becoming the first side in seven years to record a European victory at Maccabi Tel Aviv's Bloomfield Stadium.

The Potters succeeded where the likes of Juventus, Ajax and PSG have failed in recent seasons thanks to second half goals from man-of-the-match Dean Whitehead and substitute Peter Crouch, despite Roberto Colauti ensuring a nervy finale with a stoppage time header.

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What had appeared to have been an extremely comfortable evening's work for Tony Pulis' side turned out to be rather tense when the hosts halved the defecit, however, the damage had already been done earlier in the encounter thanks to the aforementioned pair.

The result in Israel's capital was enough to extend the side's lead at the top of Group E to four points with just two games remaining, following Besiktas' narrow 1-0 win against Ukranians Dynamo Kiev in Istanbul.

After City had carved out some good chances in the first half, it was the penetrating runs of Whitehead which proved to be the decisive factor as first he squeezed home a shot shortly after the break and then teed up Crouch for the second.

It was the first time Maccabi had lost a European tie at home since Bayern Munich triumphed in a Champions League tie at the Bloomfield Stadium in 2004.

Ahead of the clash, the return of Danny Higginbotham was the notable feature of nine changes which Pulis made from the Newcastle defeat on Monday, Andy Wilkinson and Jon Walters being the only survivors.

Matthew Upson was handed the captain's armband in the absence of the injured Ryan Shawcross and he lined up in the centre of defence with Higginbotham on his return almost seven months to the day that a cruciate knee shattered his hopes of playing at Wembley in the FA Cup.

Although the ground was by no means full, the torrential rain in the lead-up to the game probably having deterred many home fans from attending the game, there was still a good atmosphere and the Maccabi supporters attempted to lift their team by making all the noise.

However, it was City who made the more promising opening and the main threat came down the right hand side where Ryan Shotton featured prominently in the best moves.

It was his long throw-in launched into the box which indicated that Maccabi were going to struggle once again in dealing with the threat from set-pieces as Trinidad and Tobago ace Kenwyne Jones headed over.

Moments later, a corner delivered from the right hand side by Whitehead found Robert Huth rising unchallenged in the middle but unfortunately his header was off target.

City continued to press forward in an encouraging manner and when Shotton played the ball into Walters his attempted lob failed to give the Maccabi 'keeper any problems.

As they had done at the Britannia Stadium, the Israeli side looked good on the ball at times, but all too often, their final ball let them down as they failed to test the City defence.

A through ball from Huth found Jones bursting forward as he sprung the offside trap but his early shot clipped the foot of a Maccabi defender and flashed wide of the upright.

Midway through the first half, a foul by Shotton gave Maccabi the chance to exert some pressure on the Potters defence, but Zizov's free kick was lashed into the arms of Sorensen by Logasi who failed to make clean enough contact from long range to trouble the big Dane.

Despite growing more and more into the encounter as the half wore on, it was Tony Pulis who was aggrieved not to have seen his side take the lead ten minutes before the interval.

The influential Whitehead whipped across a dangerous corner which squirmed through to Shotton 18-yards out and his effort, via a wicked deflection off of Diao, left goalkeeper Barak Levy stranded, only for the post to come to the 18-year old's rescue before he pounced on the free ball.

The opportunity lifted confidence within the Potters and they again went close soon after with Whitehead once more proving to be the catalyst.

His delivery from the right was met by Walters who headed goalwards, though this time it was the young Israeli stopper who denied the visitors the lead with a superb save down to his left.

That proved to be the final action of a relatively comfortable first half for Pulis' side, and whilst he will have been disappointed not to have been ahead he didn't have to wait long for his side to seal the victory in the second half.

Dean Whitehead fires home for Stoke's first against Maccabi Tel-Aviv. ACTION IMAGES

Two goals in a thirteen minute spell put paid to the encounter with firstly Whitehead superbly firing into the bottom corner from an acute angle in the 51st minute, before he teed up substitute Crouch, who had only moments earlier been introduced at the expense of Walters, to wrap up the win with his first touch of the evening.

The Club's record signing went close to adding a majestic third midway through the second period after neatly controlling a long punt forward and firing a volley inches wide of Levy's post from 20-yards.

Pulis freshened things up a little bit with twenty minutes of the game remaining by welcoming Glenn Whelan and Uruguayan Diego Arismendi to the action with Diao and Palacios the two to make way.

For all of their possession, the hosts lacked that killer instinct in key areas of the pitch meaning the likes of Upson, Huth and Higginbotham were rarely troubled.

That said, Sorensen had to be alert to deny Croatian international Roberto Puncec from 18-yards as the hosts finally signalled their intent in the final ten minutes.

It all proved to be too little too late however, despite substitute Collauti glancing home a 90th minute header to salvage some consolation for Moti Ivanir's side.

The Potters now need just one point from the forthcoming encounter against Dynamo Kiev at the Britannia Stadium to mathematically secure a spot in the final 32 of the competition.

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Dean Whitehead celebrates scoring against Maccabi Tel-Aviv. ACTION IMAGES
Whitehead and Crouch edge Potters closer to UEFA Europa League qualification in Israel...
 Match Information
 
  Maccabi Tel-Aviv Stoke
Goals : 1 2
Possession : 54% 46%
Shots On Target : 8 5
Shots Off Target : 6 5
Corners : 4 5
Fouls : 10 12
Most Fouls : Colautti (2) Shotton (3)
Yellow Cards : 2 2
Red Cards : 0 0
 
Scorers :
Colautti 90 + 1
Whitehead 51
Crouch 64
 
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