Begovic heroics salvage point
If there was any doubt beforehand about Asmir Begovic`s credentials to be number one keeper, then they were blown apart last night as he earned a Stoke 1-1 draw with West Brom. Rory Delap`s 2nd goal of the season gave the Potters the lead until Carlos Vela controversially equalised when he was offside. But it was the Baggies who pushed for the winner and Begovic was forced to pull off several wonderful saves to preserve our excellent record against the visitors.
Tony Pulis`s only change from the side that lost at Arsenal was a recall for striker Kenwyne Jones who partnered John Carew, at the expense of Glenn Whelan. Matty Etherington was named amongst the substitutes but he is still deemed to unfit to start. Danny Pugh and Marc Wilson continued at full-back.
Stoke started confidently and retained possession well at the back with the likes of Wilson and Shawcross passing neatly along the ground instead of taking the more direct route. However the lack of movement upfront saw chances limited. A whipped corned from Danny Pugh saw Shawcross plant his header straight at Carson in the games only goalmouth action early on.
Rory Delap`s throws were unconvincingly dealt with by the Albion defence as Jones and Huth both came within inches of connecting. Kenwyne`s goal drought continues but his general play was much improved when Stoke managed to find his feet. Perhaps that`s something they should do more often.
West Brom rarely threatened and their only adventure into the Stoke penalty box saw Begovic make a super save to deny Graham Dorrans, with Marc-Antoine Fortune waiting for the rebound. Dorrans and Begovic did battle several times during the match, and the Bosnian always came out on top. As the first half progressed the Baggies came out of their shell and Begovic had to be alert to deny Fortune a rare goal. At this point Stoke had no pace in their game and seemed happy to allow the visitors to come and attack, something that greatly annoyed the fans and Tony Pulis.
The drab opening 45 needed spicing up. West Brom were clearly there for the taking, and with Pennant threatening every time he ventured forward, it looked like the Potters would win if they added a bit of hostility to their game.
And with just five minutes of the second half gone, the opening goal arrived after some sustained Potters pressure. Pennant whipped in the corner, and when Carson failed to come out Delap craned his neck from 3 yards to head in his second league goal of the season.
It looked now like Stoke would open up and add a couple more, but West Brom surged up the other end and almost equalised. Brunt`s cross was met by Paul Scharner, but his goal bound header deflected of Shawcross and was scrambled away by Begovic. The Baggies were now dominating, Brunt forced Begovic into another flying save from distance, while Jerome Thomas blazed over when well placed.
The Potters retreated further and further back into their own half, encouraging Albion forward. The arrival of Etherington meant that Stoke were playing mainly on the counter-attack, and this almost produced a second goal. Etherington fed Walters who held off his marker before firing just over from 30 yards.
But Albion`s goal was coming and it duly did 7 minutes from time. Reid`s cross from the right, saw Vela unmarked with the Potters defenders playing offside. The flag wasn`t raised and the on-loan Arsenal front man slotted home coolly. Replays show he was indeed offside, but this being Stoke the correct decision wasn`t given.
Stoke were panicking, trying to hold on to the point. Dorrans let fly again from distance, but his shot destined for the top corner was superbly kept out by Begovic, who recovered to block Vela`s follow up from 2 yards. The Mexican wasn`t done, as Brunt carved open the defence with an imaginative pass setting Vela was free again. But Begovic rushed from his line to save with his legs, and earn Stoke a hard fought point.
The Potters now sit 10th, 6 points ahead of the relegation zone. Next up is a back to back double against West Ham in the league and FA Cup. Two massive games in very different circumstances.