Writer: Chris Baldwin
Date:Sunday April 24 2011
Saturday 23rd April 2011
Stoke travelled south in need of a point or three against a Villa side that have failed to produce the goods too often for their own liking this season. Indeed, they were on the edge of the relegation mire until a last minute goal at Upton Park last week catapulted them up the table and relative safety.
Stoke were without an away point since Christmas, despite our good home form and outstanding cup-run and so, with league points now crucial, this was a well earned point against a side that we've often found generous to us before.
The prelude to this game consisted of Villa loanee John Carew's 'can he, can't he play' charade but if truth be told he's not a player that we've missed too much over the past few weeks that he's been injured. Now with Ricardo Fuller's worrying Achilles injury looking like he may miss the last few games of the season, it's good that we do have a player of Carew's quality available on the bench but with Kenwyne Jones and Jon Walters both seemingly back on the goal scoring trail he may find it difficult to force himself into the starting eleven.
Yesterday's game was hardly gripping stuff from either side, but whilst the Potters' Wembley exploits had obviously taken the edge off the visitors, it's hard to explain what the home side's excuse could have been, especially when it was the mighty Potters that took the lead in the 20th minute when one of Rory Delap throw-ins finally found Jones' head and he headed home. With so many of our opponents bleating about Rory's missiles it always amazes me that so many teams still manage to succumb to them if it makes us so predictable...? And the goal came after a sustained period of Potters' pressure in which the home side conceded six consecutive corners.
Darren Bent's equaliser was disappointing as it came just before half-time, but you can't argue with the quality of the header as it flew in from the edge of the penalty area giving Asmir Begovic no chance. Bent's £18m arrival in January has probably been the Villains' salvation this season with the former Sunderland player already their top scorer in the league with seven goals and rescuing several points for them in the process.
The second half saw Stoke tire with last week's efforts seemingly catching up with them, but we still had some great chances. Jon Walters had a goal somewhat dubiously disallowed for off-side and later on Ricardo Fuller, replacing Rory Delap, also had his goal (this time correctly) disallowed after he was found to be marginally ahead of the Villa defensive line.
Villa, for their part, still couldn't break us down despite several half-chances and the fact that the Potters had to play with just ten players for the final 5+ minutes after Fuller was stretchered off with TP already having used his three subs.
So, all in all, a great point in a match that could have been a post Wembley banana skin. It's now all down to the Brit on Tuesday and Wolves to fight for those last three points for survival.
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Date:Sunday April 24 2011
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