Pete Smith's Stoke City player ratings vs Plymouth as Hoever, Manhoef and Burger seal vital win

Ki-Jana Hoever of Stoke City celebrates scoring the first goal of the game during the Sky Bet Championship match between Stoke City and Plymouth Argyle
Ki-Jana Hoever of Stoke City celebrates scoring the first goal of the game during the Sky Bet Championship match between Stoke City and Plymouth Argyle -Credit:Getty Images

Dutch trio Ki-Jana Hoever, Million Manhoef and Wouter Burger produced three goals to earn a vital three points against Plymouth Argyle and go a long way to guaranteeing Stoke City Championship survival.

Stoke had the better of territory and chances through the first half but the key question, which has hung over them at home all season, was whether they would be able to find the all-important killer moment.

It came not once but twice at the end of the first half. Hoever burst forward from right-back to score his fourth of the season - and third in five games - before Manhoef picked his spot with a low drive to clinch three vital points.

Stoke continued to hold Plymouth at arm’s length through the second half and it was Burger, on as a substitute, who put the gloss on a superb win as he punched in the third with his left foot.

It is a result, combined with others around the grounds, that puts Stoke six points clear of the relegation zone with two games remaining, although Sheffield Wednesday play their game in hand tomorrow.

READ MORE: Live reaction from the bet365 Stadium

Steven Schumacher returned to a back four with changes that saw Hoever and Enda Stevens return at full-back, Jordan Thompson shuffle into central midfield in his 150th appearance for the club and find himself in a holding role which gave attacking licence to Josh Laurent and Luke Cundle, back in against his old club.

Manhoef and Bae Junho were also summoned back to flank Tyrese Campbell and it was Stoke who had the brighter of the opening stages.

Cundle slipped a pass to Campbell on the inside left and Campbell caught his shot well, firing an effort just over the bar. Cundle was next to have a go himself when he advanced towards the box without being challenged but his shot flew into the away end.

But Plymouth have a reputation for their strength on the break and when Laurent was crowded out on the edge of the area, Mustapha Bundu was allowed to carry the ball far too far up the pitch until he earned a foul thanks to a combination of Thompson, Luke McNally and ref Robert Madley’s inconsistency.

Morgan Whittaker stepped up and struck his free-kick around the wall and into the side netting, with half the stadium thinking it was in but Daniel Iversen calmly watching it fly past his post as if everything was all under control.

Most of the play came down at the other end and the question was whether Stoke could find composure and conviction in the final third.

The most likely was probably right-back Hoever and he hammered a shot into the bar when Plymouth backed off and backed off while he was looking for Campbell to find space in the middle - until the point that he was on the edge of the of the six-yard box himself and took the shot on.

And it was Hoever who broke the deadlock when he was found by Laurent, overlapping to get into the area, taking a couple of touches and rolling the ball into the bottom left corner.

Stoke were soon clinical again. Junho got in possession on the left as they charged into the Plymouth half and Manhoef stepped away from his marker to collect a pass in just enough space 25 yards out to control and dispatch into the bottom right corner.

Campbell might have made it three right at the start of the second half but after being sent through by Cundle, he was chased down by Brendan Galloway while preparing to pull the trigger with his left foot.

There were half-chances, including one when Manhoef had to use his right foot, and Niall Ennis pounced on a mix-up between Cooper and Dan Scarr to squeeze a shot past the keeper and post the far post from a tight angle.

It was Ennis again who was there to collect a pass from Junho and force a close range save from Cooper in the final few minutes.

And Burger put the seal on it when Laurent picked out Mehdi Leris on the right to cross low. The midfielder was composed to fire hard past Cooper for 3-0.

Plymouth, in truth, never looked like pulling one back, never mind two or three, and Stoke now head into their final two matches with one foot in the Championship for next season.

Here are the player ratings from the bet365 Stadium:

Iversen: Pushed early Whittaker shot over the bar and composed and reassuring presence all the way through. 7

Hoever: Smashed shot into the bar and took key opening goal expertly. A different player full of confidence compared to a couple of months ago. Can't underestimate the importance of that first goal. 9

Stevens: What a difference a natural left-back can make joining in the play. A calm head defending and useful joining in attacks. 8

Wilmot: Front-footed defending. Didn’t always come off but he has the pace to help recover too. 7

McNally: Some important tackles, blocks and ventures forward, including one all the way into the Plymouth box. 7

Thompson: A constant nibbler in key holding role in what was his 150th appearance for Stoke. Did the basics, intercepting and trying to pass to a teammate. 8

Laurent: Had permission to join in attacks and it was his neat pass to Hoever which was critical to breaking the deadlock. 7

Cundle: First goal one week and possibly his best performance for Stoke a week later. Good movement and vision. Earned standing ovation. 8

Manhoef: A vital contribution with Stoke’s second goal that calmed the stadium. Took it well, making space and a super finish. 8

Junho: Silky footwork at times as he linked up well particularly with Cundle. Hard work off the ball too and always on alert. 8

Campbell: Kept moving and had a couple of half-chances getting behind the defence, including a shot whistling over the bar. Warm reception on exit. 7


Ennis (for Campbell, 64): Almost scored with his first involvement when he pounced on defensive mistake. Shot well saved by Cooper too. 7

Burger (for Cundle, 74): Tried to thread passes into the box and was in right place at right time to bag third. 7

Leris (for Manhoef, 81): Shot blocked soon after coming on to provide new power in the air for closing stages. 7

Not used: Bonham, Rose, Vidigal, Baker, Haksabanovic, Lowe.

Referee: Robert Madley (Lancashire) 4

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