Caretaker manager Rory Delap rued Stoke City’s lack of courage as West Bromwich Albion condemned the Potters to their third defeat in as many games and kept them rooted to the bottom of the Championship table.
Matt Phillips’ goal with eight minutes gone came after impressive work from loanee Grady Diangana, whose quick passing unlocked the Stoke defence and enabled the 21-year-old to square the ball to the in-form forward.
Substitute Hal Robson-Kanu’s 70th minute penalty later condemned Stoke to their 11th loss of the campaign so far and gave the City faithful an all too familiar feeling.
Delap, who took over after the dismissal of Nathan Jones on Friday, called the performance “heartbreaking”, and sympathised with the supporters’ frustrations.
He said: “It’s hard to watch from the touchline and hard for the fans to watch. I understand them walking out.
“We’ve got to do more in terms of being brave on the ball, brave in possession.
“The performance tonight wasn’t one to be proud of. It was heartbreaking.”
Stoke’s new-look back five were defensively industrious, but the tame Potters failed to create many chances of note throughout and Delap admitted that the new tactic may have “turned out wrong”.
Cameron Carter-Vickers squandered a rare opportunity minutes into the second half, a corner headed across goal landed at the defender’s feet but he was unable to find the netting.
It prompted a short spell of intent for Stoke, who have now gone goalless in their last four outings.
But the end came for managerless Stoke with 20 minutes left when Diangana was scythed down in the area by a reckless Carter-Vickers challenge and Robson Kanu rolled in from 12 yard to send the away fans behind the goal into raptures.
Things nearly got even worse for Stoke minutes later but Robson-Kanu was denied a brace by the foot of the post after Phillips’ inviting cross left the Welshman in acres of space in the box.
Home fans left in their droves with plenty of time still on the clock amid “olé” taunts from the away following.
Albion manager Slavan Bilic saw his impressive side go top but did not hold his punches when talking about the Potters.
He said: “They have some brilliant players on paper but let’s be honest, they are in crisis.
“That is why they are there. That’s why I couldn’t be happy us being one-up, I told them we have to raise our game a bit ore and to be fair we did that.”