Gritty Stoke get the point
20th September 2008
Stoke City managed to survive in one of the cauldrons of world football and frustrate Liverpool who had seen off the Premier League champions on that same pitch only six days earlier.
We all know that we're not going to get points by playing 'sexy football' - Johan Boskamp proved that three seasons ago - but we did know that we needed to stop conceding goals as freely as we have been this season. Last week's 3-2 defeat to Everton was down to two soft goals from set-pieces and (love 'em or loath 'em) Tony Pulis' teams over the years have been characterised by their ability to defend well.
So, with no days off this week, the Potters have spent every day planning how to withstand the likes of Gerrard and Torres and to begin to rebuild his reputation for making the Stoke penalty area as impenetrable as the worst of the Amazon jungle.
Pulis had to leave Ricardo Fuller on the bench after illness had forced him to miss training in midweek, giving Mamady Sidibe a start alongside Dave Kitson in attack, but Fuller's sidelining only reinforced the Pulis game plan as Ric would have been frustrated by the lack of opportunities up front with Stoke playing the game with at least ten men behind the ball. Former Red, Salif Diao was given a rare start in preference to Leon Cort as TP looked to strengthen the central midfield.
The plan so nearly came undone before the match was hardly underway. Just two minutes in and foul on Torres was conceded in a dangerous position on the edge of the penalty area which allowed Steven Gerrard the chance to sweep the ball over everyone and into the right hand side of the goal, but the referee disallowed it for Kuyt's apparent off-side position.
After this big let-off the Potters seem determined that they were not going to be rolled over and the remainder of the match proved to be a relentless surge towards the Stoke penalty area with the entire Stoke team working well together to repel the boarders at every opportunity.
Sonko was an early casualty as he had to be replaced by Cort after only 20 minutes as he hobbled off with an ankle injury.
Liverpool's defensive game plan revolved 100% around the need to prevent the Potters having any chance of unleashing Rory Delap within sight of their goal. It took until just before the end of the first half before he had a chance on goal, but his throw-in was not low enough and gave Reina the opportunity to easily pick out the incoming missile.
The second half saw more of the same with Stoke conceding a total of twenty corners to Liverpool's three and surviving 27 shots in and around the goal whilst the Potters only managed three at the other end.
Ric Fuller came on to replace Kitson with ten minutes remaining and caused some jitters amongst the Kop until his frustration, yet again, got the better of him as he was shown a needless yellow card for lashing out after he was brought down with just seconds remaining. With Fuller already on his third yellow of the season, it's not going to be long before the Jamaican misses yet another match.
Not pretty (who cares?), but a great result for Stoke who managed their first point away from home and kept a clean sheet in the process. Great support as well from the 3,000 travelling fans who did more than enough to compete with the Kop at the opposite end.
Liverpool: Reina, Arbeloa, Carragher, Skrtel, Dossena, Kuyt, Gerrard, Alonso, Riera (Babel 65), Keane (Benayoun 73), Torres.
Subs not used: Cavalieri, Agger, Mascherano, Leiva Lucas, Degen.
Stoke City: Sorensen, Griffin, Abdoulaye Faye, Sonko (Cort 22), Higginbotham, Lawrence (Cresswell 66), Olofinjana, Diao, Delap, Kitson (Fuller 78), Sidibe.
Subs not used: Simonsen, Whelan, Tonge, Wilkinson.