Kuqi's goal keeps Blues on top

THIS was a one-goal thrashing, writes Derek Davis.The Blues totally dominated and only a combination of poor finishing, great goalkeeping and sturdy defending denied Town the chance to further extend their superb goals for tally.

THIS was a one-goal thrashing, writes Derek Davis.

The Blues totally dominated and only a combination of poor finishing, great goalkeeping and sturdy defending denied Town the chance to further extend their superb goals for tally.

In the end Shefki Kuqi's winner was enough for victory and to take Town to 50 goals scored in the league so far this season.

They might have scored more if any one of the Town players queuing up to shoot had been a bit more composed.

Kuqi was also denied a penalty when he appeared to be bowled over in the area and Darren Currie was inches away from scoring direct from a corner with Ade Akinbiyi clearing.

The Potters had gone 400 minutes without conceding a goal until Kuqi shattered that statistic as he finished a terrific passing move.

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It started with Fabian Wilnis playing inside for Tommy Miller. He cleverly beat his man to lay the ball into Jim Magilton, who in turn found Kuqi with his back to goal.

The Finn played a good one-two with Ian Westlake and when the ball came back to him, 10 yards out in the middle of goal, he beat the keeper with a well-placed shot.

That was his 12th goal of the season and his third in four games.

It was virtually all one-way traffic until that goal, when Stoke actually improved a little.

That said £250,000 signing Darren Currie might have found his first goal at Portman Road with a couple of efforts.

Currie's in-swinging corner went over keeper Steve Simonsen but was cleared off line by Akinbiyi at the far post with 26 minutes gone.

Moments later a low free-kick from the former Brighton winger crept past the Stoke wall but it was a simple take for Simonsen.

Darren Bent worked hard to get to a dozen goals as well but it never quite came off for him, although he had a marvellous opportunity in the opening minutes.

A Kelvin Davis goal-kick was flicked on to Bent, who ran clear, only to have his low shot saved by Simonsen.

That prompted a bombardment with any one of half-a-dozen Blues in with a chance. Currie pulled the ball back for Miller but his shot was blocked by Wayne Thomas.

Skipper Magilton returned to the starting line-up in place of Kevin Horlock as the team reverted back to the one that beat Wigan last week after changing for the defeat at Millwall.

He took a clever pass from Matt Richards and hit a powerful 30-yard drive but Simonsen was well-positioned to take it.s

And still the shots streamed in.

Miller had a 20-yard shot blocked by the impressive Michael Duberry and it went over the bar and Kuqi headed Magilton's corner too high.

Then Magilton hit over the bar, Westlake had an effort blocked, Miller hit a weak shot to the keeper and Richards struck one wide.

Chances were fewer in the second half although Bent's pace almost caused problems for Simonsen as he dealt with a weak back pass.

The England Under-21 striker forced Simonsen into an excellent tip-over save with a wicked 30-yard drive after carving out space for himself.

And the keeper needed to be sharp to head clear another loose ball with Kuqi closing in on him.

Currie curled a free-kick too far and it evaded everyone in the box before going wide.

Town appealed for a penalty with Kuqi pushed off ball by Gifton Noel-Williams as he went for a Magilton corner.

There was time for the outstanding Wilnis to put in an angled cross but Bent's stooping header was off target and then Miller hooked in a shot that was blocked by Thomas.

City rely heavily on their physicality, with nine of their team six foot or taller, and demonstrated that in the opening minutes with Bent needing treatment for an accidental whack in the face by Thomas.

Moments later, Lewis Buxton, making his full debut for Stoke after joining last week from Portsmouth, was booked for a hefty challenge on Currie.

Clint Hill showed he was better at long throws than shooting when he sliced a 25-yarder over the bar.

Carl Asaba shot high and wide from the angle of the 18-yard box and Darel Russell dragged a low angled shot wide of the far post.

They enjoyed a purple patch early in the second half in terms of possession but rarely troubled Davis. A Dave Brammer free-kick, earned when Noel-Williams conned the referee by tumbling when running alongside Wilnis, was blocked by Westlake.

Akinbyi was denied a chance by Richard Naylor, who executed a superb tackle to clear in the area.

But that was about it from a team of toothless giants.

Town go into the New Year top of the league and on recent showings they are going to take some stopping.

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