Sunderland’s relegation fears grew after Marko Arnautovic scored twice to help Stoke City to a convincing 3-1 win at the Stadium of Light.
The visitors scored three times in the opening 34 minutes to pave the way for a victory that will ease the pressure on manager Mark Hughes following last weekend’s shock home defeat to Wolves in the FA Cup.
It was another abject afternoon for the Black Cats, however, who slip to 19th in the Premier League, a point adrift of safety, thanks to a listless performance that drew boos at half-time and the final whistle.
Arnautovic opened the scoring after 15 minutes and doubled his side’s tally seven minutes later following a lovely, flowing move from Hughes’ men.
Peter Crouch celebrated his new one-year contract by adding a third, rising high above the weak challenge of Vito Mannone, but Jermain Defoe pulled one back before the break.
The second period was sedate in comparison with Sunderland’s hopes of finding a route back into the game effectively ending when Jack Rodwell sliced horribly wide from 10 yards on the hour mark.
Stoke bossed from the outset with Sunderland’s makeshift midfield struggling to cope with the visitors’ superior movement.
And it was no surprise when Stoke struck first. Xherdan Shaqiri’s raking pass picked out Arnautovic, who had escaped the attentions of Donald Love, and, although his first effort was blocked by Vito Mannone, the rebound fell kindly for the Austria international to hammer into the net.
Sunderland’s defending was called into question again as Arnautovic made it 2-0 following a sweeping Stoke attack.
The former Werder Bremen winger played unchallenged one-twos with Shaqiri and then Crouch before firing high above Mannone and in.
Mannone almost gifted Stoke a third after 33 minutes when he fumbled Shaqiri’s routine 25-yard drive onto the post and wide but it proved brief respite as from the resulting corner Stoke scored again.
The ball was partially cleared as far as Charlie Adam and his punt back into the box was perfect for Crouch to rise above Mannone and nod into the unguarded net.
The Stadium of Light emptied as fans poured towards the refreshment areas and those that did depart missed a Sunderland rally before half-time.
Rodwell had already seen a shot saved by Lee Grant before Defoe reduced the arrears, running on to Love’s long pass and slipping the ball past Grant.
Fabio Borini drew a smart save from Grant shortly after the restart although the visitors always carried a threat on the counter, Arnautovic almost netting a hat-trick after running on to Shaqiri’s clever pass and shooting narrowly wide.
Rodwell then missed a wonderful chance to set up a frantic final half hour when he failed to find the target after the ball had diverted kindly into his path.
Sunderland huffed and puffed in the closing stages but Stoke continued to keep the Wearsiders at arm’s length to complete a well-deserved win that moved them into the top half.
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