Blackburn Rovers 1 Stoke City 2: The season of goodwill towards Steve Kean looks to be over, thanks to two pieces of clinical finishing from Peter Crouch yesterday.
With an unlikely point from Liverpool and an inconceivable three from Manchester United, even the most vehement of the Blackburn manager's critics were in indulgent mood.
The "Kean Out" banners appeared to have been stashed away, only for one or two of them to reappear at full-time here. For that, Kean had to thank Crouch's well-known awkwardness and often underrated close control.
"He's unplayable at times," said the Stoke manager, Tony Pulis. That, for both goals, was certainly the experience of the Rovers' defence.
Christopher Samba could hardly have begun the match in more threatening mode, heading one corner against the Stoke bar and putting another into the net, only to see it disallowed for a foul on Thomas Sorensen.
However, it was the Rovers captain who was implicated when Stoke took the lead against the run of play. He lost his footing competing for the ball and Dean Whitehead chipped into the danger area, leaving Crouch to kill it on his chest and tuck it in.
Samba almost made up for it by doing something similar at the other end, but Sorensen's fingertips guided his effort just wide. Then he won a ball to give Yakubu a chance, but his shot on the turn beat the post.
Stoke struck again on the break just before half-time. Matthew Etherington found the freedom on the left, Crouch got away from Adam Henley and volleyed home.
"That second goal was a bit of a killer for us," Kean said. "We were pressing for an equaliser and got caught on the break. If you give Peter Crouch that type of service it's going to be tough."
Crouch could have had his hat-trick early in the second half, when he volleyed over from Jonathan Woodgate's cross.
With goodwill starting to wear thin, Kean tried to make it the season of Goodwillie, by bringing on his Scottish striker, David of that ilk, whose first act was to fire a shot too high, but he was there in the 69th minute to force the ball home from the scramble that ensued when Stoke could not clear a Morten Gamst Pedersen corner.
Another scramble saw Woodgate clear off the line, but the loudest cheer of the afternoon came when Pedersen slid off the pitch and upended Kean. It was a graphic reminder that managers stand or fall by the efforts of their players.
"We feel it's a missed opportunity, because the way other results have fallen, we could have been out of the bottom three," Kean said.
Substitutes: Blackburn Rovers Goodwillie 5 (Petrovic, 58), Givet 6 (Henley, 70), Rochina (Dunn, 72). Stoke City Jerome (Etherington, 79), Delap (Whelan, 82), Diao (Whitehead, 86).
Booked: Blackburn Hanley, Rochina. Stoke Huth.
Man of the match Crouch.
Match rating 6/10.
Possession: Blackburn 54% Stoke 46%.
Attempts on target: Blackburn 7 Stoke 3.
Referee L Mason (Lancashire). Attendance 20,615.