Writer: Chris Baldwin
Date:Sunday March 1 2009
1st March 2009
Stoke battled back from 2-0 down with five minutes remaining to claim a point at Villa Park.
The great fight-back epitomises the strength of character in the majority of Stoke's performances on the road this season even if we've not had a great deal to cheer about, but even the most ardent Stokie must have been looking for the exit with a heavy heart before Ryan Shawcross's 88th minute header which was then doubled with a great strike from Glenn Whelan with just seconds to go.
With Rory Delap and Matt Etherington still suspended, Tony Pulis had to make one change to the team that were forced to make do with only a point against Portsmouth at the Brit last week. Ab Faye was not risked due to a back strain and Ibrahima Sonko was brought in to deputise. The good news was that Ricardo Fuller was back in contention after recovering quickly from a dislocated shoulder and was on the bench.
Tony Pulis changed the formation for the game, playing three central defenders along the back in the hope of holding Villa's strike force at bay. Whilst this was on the whole successful, it left few openings up front to attack and the first half seemed to be a good exercise in containment, but that was all undone with just seconds to go before the break when Stiliyan Petrov put the home side in front.
The second half began with Steve Simonsen coming on to replace the former Villa keeper, Thomas Sorensen who had fallen awkwardly towards the end of the first period and hurt his neck. But it was ten minutes in to the second 45 when Stoke upped their game with the introduction of Ricardo Fuller for Danny Pugh. Fuller became the outlet that Stoke had been missing in the first half and had a half chance of a penalty appeal turned down when the Jamaican's mazy footwork nearly made it through the Villa defence but for a good tackle from Curtis Davis.
Amdy Faye made way for Glenn Whelan a few minutes after Fuller's introduction and Stoke continued to press but disaster struck as Villa gained a second against the run of play. With ten minutes remaining, the Villa sub, John Carew, had only been on the pitch a couple of minutes before he calmly (and dare I say, sublimely) helped the incoming ball over the Stoke defence leaving Simmo stranded. But Stoke responded well and Whelan was unlucky to see his strike rebound of the inside of the upright with Freidel beaten.
Some may have thought it was all over, certainly the internet in-play bookies had Stoke as 349/1 against to get a draw when Shawcross headed home from James Beattie's great cross in the 88th minute and with referee, Howard Webb playing two minutes of added time it only needed 90 seconds before the ball rebounded into Whelan's path on the edge of the area and he slammed the ball home through a crowded Villa defence.
The only days that will get better than this will be when Stoke manage three points away from the Brit - and that day must be getting closer....
Aston Villa: Friedel, Cuellar, Knight, Davies, Luke Young, Milner, Petrov, Barry, Ashley Young, Agbonlahor, Heskey (Carew 76)
Subs not used: Guzan, Harewood, Delfouneso, Reo-Coker, Shorey, Gardner
Stoke City: Sorensen (Simonsen 46), Shawcross, Sonko, Higginbotham, Wilkinson, Diao, Amdy Faye (Whelan 64), Pugh (Fuller 54), Lawrence, Beattie, Sidibe
Subs not used: Cort, Cresswell, Kelly, Camara
Date:Sunday March 1 2009
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