STOKE CITY are 'heading' in the right direction in the Barclays Premier League again . . . after Matthew Upson and Peter Crouch got them back to winning ways with goals to set up a 2-0 victory over Swansea City at the Britannia Stadium.
Upson broke the deadlock with a header from Matthew Etherington's corner in the 24th minute and then Crouch flicked home his tenth goal of the season when he rose to meet a long throw-in from Ryan Shotton six minutes before the break.
Although Brendan Rodgers' side showed why they have won many admirers by having plenty of possession, their lack of height was exposed on those two occasions and the Potters threatened a number of other times from set-pieces.
The victory ended a run of four successive defeats, moved City closer to the all-important 40-point mark and lifted them to twelfth place.
Pulis reverted back to the players who had been left at home for the Valencia trip, the only two who went to Spain in the starting line-up being Begovic and Shotton.
Begovic regained his Premier League place ahead of Sorensen, while City's manager opted to pair Whelan and Whitehead together in the centre of midfield.
City were looking to be quick out of the blocks against a Swansea side with an outstanding reputation for keeping the ball for long periods.
But the visitors should really have taken an early lead when Dyer's electrifying pace down the right opened the door for Sinclair, who was picked out by the winger's pull back to the edge of the box, but the former Chelsea man scooped his shot over the bar.
The Potters' response came by way of a long throw-in delivered by Shotton which was only half cleared by Swansea and when Whelan volleyed the ball back into the area, Crouch tried to flick it goalbound but didn't make clean enough contact.
When Whelan then chipped a free kick into the box, Swansea were forced to concede a corner from which Upson headed wide Etherington's deep cross.
There was an anxious moment for City when Sigurdsson threaded a pass through to Sinclair who had drifted into a central position, but his eventual cross from the right hand edge of the box aimed in the direction of Graham found Wilkinson's firm header.
The Etherington-Upson combination had already caused Swansea problems from a corner and it was that link-up again which led to City taking the lead.
Etherington delivered a corner from the right to the edge of the six yard box where Upson had timed his run to power a header past the Swansea 'keeper.
Upson then made an important contribution at the other end, coming across to block full back Taylor in his tracks after he advanced fully 40 yards past the attention of two City players and was shaping to shoot from just inside the box.
Despite being in front at this stage, City were having to do a lot of chasing as Swansea strung the passes together and pushed the home side back.
But Swansea's vulnerability to high balls into the box was exposed once again seven minutes before half time when Shotton launched a throw-in into the box and Crouch's header managed to creep past Tremmel even though the 'keeper got a hand to it.
The two-goal cushion was perhaps more than the Potters could have expected at that point on the balance of play, but they created another opportunity just before the break as Etherington's cross was volleyed back into the danger area by Whelan, but fortunately for Swansea it did not fall kindly for either Crouch or Walters in the six yard box.
City pressed the Swans hard at the beginning of the second half in search of a third goal which would make things far more comfortable for them and corner whipped in by Etherington caused the visitors problems, but Williams cleared under pressure.
A third goal almost arrived in the 54th minute when Crouch flicked on a long throw from Shotton on the right and Walters headed over the bar at the far post.
A rare moment of hope for the visitors came when Dyer drifted in from the right flank and tried an ambitious left foot shot from 20 yards which was off target.
That signalled a spell in which Swansea dominated possession once again and probed for an opening that would get them back into the game in the final half hour.
Pulis made his first change of the game when Jerome was introduced in place of Etherington, all of which meant that Walters dropped deeper on the left hand side.
It was, however, Walters who went close again to stretching City's lead when Shotton turned over a cross from the right which just evaded the head of Jerome, and the Republic of Ireland international, perhaps not expecting it to reach him, couldn't hit the target.
Swansea had more difficulty in defending a corner when Whelan sent over a cross from the left which Walters flicked on at the near post, but it didn't fall to a City player and the visitors on that occasion were able to clear the danger.
City made a double substitution in the closing stages, sending on Delap and Palacios in place of Crouch and Shotton, and Delap was soon in the thick of the action.
Opting not to deliver a long throw, he accepted a return pass from Palacios and whipped over a cross from the right which caused panic in the Swansea defence, but there was no City player there to make the most of such an inviting opportunity.
As the game went into injury-time, Begovic pulled off a stunning reflex save to push a close range header from Caulker onto the bar when a goal seemed on the cards.