Frustrated Potters Draw Blank
Frustration was the order of the day at the Britannia Stadium as both Stoke and Fulham played out a goalless draw in a game that was marred by poor refereeing and a bad looking injury to Mama Sidibe. After Sidibe was stretchered off, Stoke`s heads dropped and a draw was on the cards for most of the 90 minutes.
Stoke boss Tony Pulis was forced into 3 changes following the draw at Newcastle, with Andy Griffin and Salif Diao missing out through injury and Richard Cresswell was dropped to the bench. Captain Griffin who was missing due to a Knee injury was replaced by Andy Wilkinson and Salif Diao who suffered a groin injury last week was replaced by Glenn Whelan, much to the delight of the home supporters who have been longing to see the popular Whelan back in the starting team. The third change saw Ricardo Fuller, the catalyst of that sparkling revival last week-end, return to the starting team replacing Richard Cresswell.
Disaster struck as early as the 2nd minute as Mama Sidibe rose to challenge a high ball and landed awkwardly injuring his Knee. The big man was down for 3 minutes before been carried off via a stretcher, being replaced Richard Cresswell. The atmosphere around the stadium changed after the shock of Sidibe being carried off as everyone prayed that he wouldn`t miss too many games.
A quiet opening quarter to the game unfolded with Fulham retaining possession well but couldn`t get anywhere near the Stoke goal which was kept quiet by the solid Thomas Sorensen. Stoke looked to threaten with Fuller twisting inside Aaron Hughes and firing his shot way over the bar. This frightened the Fulham defence which at times looked vulnerable and capable of making plenty of mistakes.
A lot of the game was centred around ref Stuart Atwell, yes the one who gave the goal that never was, as he made some very unpopular decisions by giving needless free-kicks most of which were in the favour of Fulham. This aggravated the crowd and only added to their impatience as Stoke failed to inspire any response from the usually vocal Britannia. Ref Atwell did however throw Stoke a life line as both he and the assistant were unable to spot Danny Higginbotham`s clear handball in the penalty area, much to the horror of Fulham manager Roy Hodgeson.
The most clear cut chance of the whole game fell to Stoke as Fuller linked up well with Cresswell and released his new strike partner through on goal, but with just the goalkeeper to beat, Cresswell mucked up his shot firing it well wide of the target.
That was as good as it got during a lacklustre first half as even Rory Delap couldn`t inspire his team, a shoulder injury prevented him from taking the traditional throw-ins which was left to Ibrahima Sonko who, if anything, threw it even further but not at the same pace or trajectory.
A half time treat for Potters fans as Stoke legend Peter Hoekstra returned to pick up his award of "Player of the Decade" as voted for by thousands of fans. Hoekstra, a former Dutch international, played 88 times for Stoke notching up 12 goals. He thrilled supporters many times but none more then when he gave one of the greatest individual performances ever seen at the Britannia as he scored a fine hat-trick during a 3-0 win over Reading during his final season at Stoke back in 2003.
The half time team talk failed to inspire either side as the game continued in much the same manner as the first. Ricardo Fuller may count himself lucky not to be sent off after colliding with John Pantsil, after squaring up with each other Pantsil fell to the ground claiming that Fuller head butted him, clearly innocent Fuller pursued in arguing with Atwell who could have easily sent him off.
Pulis decided to change things around by introducing Michael Tonge replacing the ineffective Rory Delap, who was clearly struggling with that shoulder injury. But it was Fulham who pressurised with American Clint Dempsey forcing Abdoulaye Faye into a last ditch tackle.
As the game wore on Danny Pugh was replaced by Vincent Pericard who has been in fine form for the reserves of late and he looked to fill in the role left by Sidibe in the early stages. He announced his arrival by dummying a forward ball past the helpless Paul Konchesky and sprinting towards the goal, instead of entering the box he fired from 20 yards wide of the goal, but received a warm applause for his improvisation.
Both sides pressed for a winner but couldn`t muster that killer pass to grab all 3 points. The result leaves Stoke 13th in the table with 20 points, but now only 4 points ahead of 18th placed Newcastle who travel to Portsmouth tomorrow. Next up for Stoke is an away trip to Ewood Park to face a Blackburn side that lingers in the relegation zone after today`s 3-0 defeat at Wigan. This will be a great chance for Stoke to pick up their first away win in this campaign.