Writer: Chris Baldwin
Date:Sunday March 16 2008
15th March 2008
Stoke City kept a clean sheet and go top of the league as they missed a golden opportunity to pull clear of the chasing pack in the Championship.
Tony Pulis was without Liam Lawrence, who is suspended for two matches but was able to draw upon the services of Glenn Whelan who has now completed his two match suspension. Mamady Sidibe's hamstring injury also meant that the Mail international was unable to start, allowing new loan signing, Jay Bothroyd the chance to make his Potters' debut alongside Ricardo Fuller.
Stoke had a one man advantage for most of the game after the Hornets' captain, John Eustace for sent off by referee, Rob Styles for a two footed challenge on Richard Cresswell after 23 minutes. The former Potter appeared to have been harshly treated, even prompting protestations from Griffin, who was in a similar situation a couple of weeks ago but later had his red card rescinded after an appeal.
Despite the extra player, Stoke never really seemed prepared to take the game to Watford, who with a vocal crowd behind them always looked the more likely to make the first break.
At the start of the second half, Pulis changed his tactics in an attempt to win the match, bringing on Paul Gallagher for Leon Cort and pushing Cresswell up front alongside Fuller and Bothroyd.
But this plan nearly backfired when Styles gave the home side a penalty after Griffin was judged to have handled the ball inside the area. Luckily, Darius Henderson made it two penalty misses within a week, when Carlo Nash made a fantastic save by diving to his right.
Chances were extremely thin on the ground for the Potters and Pulis was forced to rejig the formation when it became clear that three up front seemed to unbalance the team.
Despite their numerical advantage and 2,500 traveling fans, it seemed that Stoke were more desperate not to drop a point, rather than win the game.
Styles, as ever, made his impact on the Stoke team. Bookings for Fuller and Shawcross take both on to ten bookings and an automatic two match ban. With luck Sidibe will be fit for the Blackpool match next week and will be able to partner Bothroyd up front.
So the game ended 0-0. With Bristol City and West Brom both losing home matches, it really was a case of two points dropped for the Potters, but that one point was enough to send Stoke back to the top of the league.
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Date:Sunday March 16 2008
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