Writer: Tom Mckeon
Date:Sunday January 1 2012
The Britannia Stadium
Ben Watson`s controversial 85th minute penalty salvaged a draw for 10-man Wigan, ending a thrilling second half which saw three goals, two penalties and a sending off.
Stoke had chances early on, but Wigan grew as the game wore on and looked to have been going home with three points after Moses` opener, but Gary Caldwell was sent off after handballing on the goal-line, sparking a pulsating last 20 minutes.
Walters smashed home the penalty to restore parity, and Jerome`s brilliantly-taken goal looked to have given Stoke the perfect end to 2011, but Shotton was deemed to have pulled down Hugo Rodellega in the area, and Watson made no mistake from the spot.
There were concerns before the match that Huth and Crouch wouldn`t be fit, but both were named in the starting line up, along with Wilkinson, Delap and Pennant, who all returned to the first 11 for the last match of Stoke`s outstanding 2011.
Stoke had plenty of space in the opening stages, it looked like Wigan were content in the Potters having the ball, and City really should`ve taken the lead after spurning a number of half-chances.
Set pieces were, unsurprisingly, troubling the Wigan defence throughout the opening exchanges, with Etherington`s free-kick finding Crouch early on, who stretched to hook the ball back into the danger area, but it was cleared by the Wigan defence.
It was immediately evident that this game was a clash of cultures, as the likes of Jordi Gomez were prancing around in midfield, Stoke`s Wilson Palacios was biting into challenges in the effort to get his side moving forward.
The pressure on the Wigan goal continued, with Pennant relishing his return.
The former Liverpool winger burst down the right on a number of occasions in the first half, and had there been another Stoke player near Crouch when the striker headed the ball down from his floated cross, City would`ve taken the lead.
Delap`s throw then found Robert Huth, but the German`s header flashed wide of Al-Habsi`s post, and this happened on a couple of occasions as Wigan struggled to combat the Stoke defender`s physicality.
Wigan weren`t really offering much at this stage, but Gomez drilled an effort straight into Sorenson`s palms from 25 yards out.
And as the half wore-on, it wasn`t all one-way traffic, and Wigan had chances themselves.
Ronnie Stam, playing as a full-back in Wigan`s back 5, found space on the edge of the area, and his dipping effort looked to have beaten Thomas Sorenson, but the Dane brilliantly tipped the ball over the bar.
Delap and Wilkinson then, unsurprisingly, had shots fly into Row Z of the South Stand, after good work from Jermaine Pennant on both occasions.
The biggest warning siren for the Potters came moments later, as Rodallega sprung the offside trap - but despite Sorenson`s hesitancy in whether to come and claim the ball, Shawcross recovered to take the ball off the Columbian just as he was about to strike.
Stam then fired the ball into the Seddon stand, to the fury of the Stoke fans, and was carded for his sins - although it looked more out of frustration rather than malice.
And it was the same man who played a part in the Latic`s opener.
Rodallega won a foot-race against Marc Wilson on the right hand side after a searching ball down the line from Stam, and he drilled it across the goal for Moses to easily convert from 6 yards out.
The goal, coming in the 45th minute, was a huge blow for Stoke, and the Potters came out in the second half with at least more urgency in closing down their opponents, but they were still lacking incisiveness in the final-third.
Shotton was introduced in place of Wilkinson, who was struggling with a knock, and his added quality going forward was evident as he attempted to link up with Jermaine Pennant.
However, at this point, it was looking impossible for Stoke to score from open-play.
It was to no surprise then that the closest the Potters came to levelling the scoreline was from a Delap throw in, as Huth rose to fire a header which hit the inside of the post and trickled back into the keeper`s arms.
After that rotten piece of luck, Stoke fans would`ve been forgiven for thinking it just simply wasn`t going to be their day.
Although, with 20 minutes to go, Jerome replaced the disappointing Matthew Etherington, and only minutes later the game was turned on its head.
Pennant`s cross found Crouch at the back post, who did well to head the ball back across the goal, and Jerome`s resulting diving header hit the hand of Wigan captain Gary Caldwell, who was inevitably sent off for a deliberate handball.
Jon Walters was then made to wait to take his penalty as Wigan players surrounded the ref for what seemed an eternity.
Rodallega was subsequently booked, whilst the likes of Moses escaped unpunished despite standing in the penalty area and protesting.
It did not affect Walters however, as he typically converted the penalty with ease, Al-Habsi guessed the right way, but the power and placement was too much for the former Bolton man to handle.
The Stoke faithful were now roaring their side on in the hope of gaining what seemed for much of the match, an unlikely three points.
The Stoke players responded, flooding forward in numbers, and their boldness was rewarded in the 83rd minute.
Good play from Crouch saw Walters flick the ball towards the onrushing Cameron Jerome, and the pacy striker sprinted into the box and placed the ball into the corner of the net to send the Britannia barmy.
It was the striker`s first Premier League goal for the club, but the New Year party-atmosphere was to be short lived, as Wigan levelled under controversial circumstances.
Tugging and pulling happens in every box, in every game, but Stoke were punished for it yesterday.
Ryan Shotton was tight to Hugo Rodallega, and the Columbian seemingly went down very easily, and to the surprise of everyone in the ground, a penalty was awarded.
Wigan`s renowned spot-kick taker Ben Watson was then brought on, and sent Sorenson the wrong way with his first touch to salvage a vital point for Wigan.
Wigan, despite being down to 10-men, were still coming forward to their credit.
However, in one last chance for Stoke, Jerome found himself in a similar position to where he scored, but his touch crucially eluded him when it looked like Stoke would find a dramatic winner.
The drama wasn`t over just yet though, as Shawcross went over in the penalty area after a clumsy challenge, but the referee waved away Stoke`s claims and blew the whistle to end a stunning final 20 minutes.
Date:Sunday January 1 2012
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