Valencia justified their pre-match billing as favourites by becoming the first foreign visitors to win at Stoke City.
Mehmet Topal’s brilliant first-half strike put Valencia in control of this round of 32 tie, ending Stoke’s proud unbeaten home record in Europe in the process. The home side went down fighting, but it was the Liga outfit who were closest to a second goal when, with 19 minutes left, Sofiane Feghouli stepped inside Andy Wilkinson and beat Asmir Begović, but not the post, with a deflected shot.
Valencia were knocked out of the Champions League in December at Stamford Bridge, but this was a more satisfying visit to England for a side who had only won here once in 15 previous attempts. Unai Emery’s men owed their victory to a moment of inspiration by Turkish international Mehmet, who justified his recall by spearing an unstoppable shot into the top-right corner of Begović’s goal after 36 minutes.
It was a goal that followed the run of play, Jonas having already brought a flying save from Begović after his quick feet had created space for a shot inside the box on the left. Valencia were weaving some pretty patterns but with the final pass elusive, Mehmet decided on a less complicated route and it paid off handsomely.
Stoke manager Tony Pulis had noted beforehand the gulf in European experience between the teams, while this was Stoke’s 15th European fixture overall, Valencia were playing their 100th game in the UEFA Cup and UEFA Europa League alone. Yet Stoke still had their moments. Indeed, they almost had the boost of an early goal from Jonathan Walters, who was a whisker away from connecting with Rory Delap’s long throw into the box.
Shortly after Mehmet’s goal, Peter Crouch was not far off target with a spectacular scissor-kick from one of several enticing Jermaine Pennant crosses. Valencia survived that scare and resisted Stoke’s second-half pressure to seal a lead to take back to Spain ahead of next Thursday’s second leg.