Potters held in Latic`s thriller
An end to end pulsating game saw the spoils shared between Stoke and Wigan at the DW Stadium, 2-2. A flurry of first half action saw all four goals scored by the 40th minute in a bitterly cold stadium that was only half full. Robert Huth and Matthew Etherington were on the score sheet as the Potters claim 7th place in the league, and 6 points clear of 18th placed Wigan.
It may not have been the most highly anticipated game in the Premier League this week, but any neutral would have enjoyed their day out up north. Dreadful defending, relentless attacking, near misses, wonderful saves and poor refereeing, and that is only scratching the surface.
As expected both Andy Wilkinson and Jermaine Pennant couldn`t overcome injuries suffered a week ago against Man City and were left out of the squad altogether. This gave a chance for Danny Higginbotham to come in to the defence, with Huth switching to right-back, to play alongside Shawcross at centre-half.
Jon Walters was a straight swap for Pennant on the right wing, and he was given the task of supplying Jones and Fuller. Due to Wilko`s and Jermaine`s injuries and Marc Wilson`s suspension, there were rare places amongst the subs for Salif Diao and Ryan Shotton, and a return for Abdoulaye Faye.
It was a largely dull opening ten minutes as both sides tentatively eased themselves into the game. In a contrast of styles, it was clear from the first few minutes that Wigan`s small, quick and tricky playmakers; Charles N`Zogbia, Tom Cleverly and Ben Watson, were all going to test the Potters resolve to the max. But at the other end the power of Jones, quick feet of Fuller and directness of Etherington, were also posing Wigan`s leaky defence questions.
It took until the 11th minute for the crowd to get excited about something as Fuller almost opened the scoring. With Stoke pushing forward Delap slipped a clever ball through for the Jamaican in a promising position in the box. Fuller`s turn saw him less than 6 yards from goal, but his delicate chip was smothered by the fast reacting Al Habsi.
The Wigan fans, all 11,000 of them, were becoming restless and short tempered with their side`s poor passing, on which their game depends on. But if they were restless then, they were rueing their luck after 19 minutes as Stoke took the lead.
A free-kick approximately 40 yards from goal in a dead central position was awarded. Winning anything in the air was going to be difficult due to the angle, so Huth decide to just whack it. Luckily the German`s scuffed shot deflected of the Wigan wall, before nestling in the far corner.
The hosts sprung into life and were guilty of a couple of shocking misses that will haunt their players. N`Zogbia, who looked a class player, whipped in a cross designed for Gohouri`s head. With the goal gaping he headed wide, much to his team mates frustration. Cleverly forced some smart stops out of Begovic who was kept busy, but players frustration turned to disgust as Hendry Thomas missed what can only be described as an absolute sitter.
It was N`Zogbia again who did all the hard work, drifting from one side of the pitch to the other before flashing a cross across goal for Thomas inside the box. He was unmarked, 4 yards out, dead centre of the goal and Begovic was nowhere. But he still managed to put it wide.
However parity was restored moments later when Cleverly took a tumble far too easily on the edge of the box. Much to everyone`s bemusement the ref gave a free-kick and you knew what was coming. Watson drove it in low and after a couple of deflections; Begovic was beaten at the near post. Alcaraz claimed it but replays suggest it may have come off Collins.
But up the other end we went just 60 seconds later, and our lead was restored. Wigan, buoyant after their goal, came flowing forward but after Begovic dealt with another cross, just, Stoke broke with such devastating effect.
Jones collected the ball inside his own half and after just skipping past the challenge of one defender while managing to keep the ball in, he set off on a powerful run down the right wing. Fuller made a run down the line and after being fed the ball, he used his skill and strength to squeeze a cross from the by-line intended for the incoming Whitehead. Dean`s excellent vision saw him dummy the ball for the unmarked Etherington to slot the ball home.
But the goals didn`t stop there and some clever play from Cleverly saw him turn Huth with speed before crashing a shot inside the post with the huge help of a Delap deflection. Half-time 2-2 and more goals seemed inevitable.
Both Pulis and Martinez were both clearly angered by their respected defence`s poor first half display, and so the second half provided us with no goals but drama in abundance. Firstly N`Zogbia forced Begovic into two fantastic saves too keep him at bay, but Al Habsi topped the lot with an amazing reflex save from Jones.
Walters, who struggled on his return to the starting 11, broke down the right and played a perfect cross destined for Jones. The Trinidad man powered in, but his downward header was superbly kept out by the Oman international. As the ball popped up, Fuller looked guaranteed to poke it in but an Alcaraz shirt pull went unnoticed by only one person in the stadium, and ref Mike Jones ignored our strong appeals++. Pulis was enraged by the decision, and he was even more enraged by Walters shocking header wide from just 4 yards.
The games momentum had disappointingly gone as 21 tired players limped towards the final whistle. One though was adamant his side would win and only the post prevented N`Zogbia from scoring a winner that would have befitted any match. He weaved in and out of Collins and Higginbotham, confusing both them and the crowd, before reaching shooting distance where his shot smacked the post.
In the end a draw was probably fair but both sides will feel they could have and should have won it. Next up for Stoke is a home game with Blackpool, another game we will feel we should win.