Neil Warnock's reign as Crystal Palace manager began with a promising draw away to Blackpool on Saturday but his team ended last night's crushing defeat at Selhurst Park to the familiar sound of boos.
Palace have won only once at home this season and the only consolation for their supporters was that they went down despite a positive approach. One of the biggest criticisms of Peter Taylor, Warnock's predecessor, was his over-cautious style, but here Palace lined up with a three-man attack.
It can take time, however, for players to adapt to such a change of emphasis and Palace's football rarely flowed. Their lack of pace was harshly exposed, while the loss of their most creative player, Ben Watson, who did not reappear for the second half after Ricardo Fuller's heavy challenge, proved crucial.
Palace had had the best chances in the first half, but within three minutes of the restart Stoke went in front. Dominic Matteo delivered a precise cross from the left and Richard Cresswell, totally unmarked, headed home from five yards.
Dougie Freedman, a first-half substitute for the injured Dickov, briefly lifted Palace's hopes, stabbing the ball beyond Simonsen after cleverly finding space, but after 58 minutes Stoke retook the lead. Liam Lawrence's shot bounced back off a post and Cresswell, showing great composure, was first to the ball to drive home the rebound.
Palace's misery was completed 15 minutes later. Rory Delap's dipping volley from 25 yards hit the bar, Ryan Shawcross followed up and Jon Parkin made sure from close range.
Warnock said he could not fault his team for effort and blamed the defeat on "three really bad goals". He added: "At this stage of my career I don't think I could ask for a better challenge, but it's one that I'm relishing."
Crystal Palace (4-3-3): Speroni; Lawrence, Cort, Hudson, Craig; Fletcher, Watson (Fonte, h-t), Martin (Green, 64); Scowcroft, Morrison, Dickov (Freedman, 34). Substitutes not used: Idrizaj, Hughes.
Stoke City (4-4-2): Simonsen; Wilkinson, Zakuani, Shawcross, Dickinson; Lawrence, Eustace, Matteo, Delap; Fuller (Parkin 55), Cresswell (Hill, 90). Substitutes not used: Hoult (gk), Sweeney, Phillips.
Referee: M Thorpe (Suffolk).