Mehmet Topals Stoke with a screamer
16th February 2012 8.05pm
Stoke`s chances of advancing in the Europa League were dealt a blow after a stunning strike from Mehmet Topal.
Stoke will go to Valencia (Thursday 23rd February) a goal down after succumbing to their first European home defeat.
Stoke made several changes from their last match against Fulham, as Asmir Begovic, Robert Huth, Jermaine Pennant and Rory Delap replaced Thomas Sorensen, suspended Matthew Upson, Glenn Whelan and Kenywne Jones.
The game started with a bang, as a routine long ball forward found its way to Jonathan Walters, who took the ball in his stride on the right hand side and knocked it past the defender, before flashing it agonizingly across the face of the goal.
After the chance, precedence was set by the Valencia players as Wilson Palacios clipped Goncalves Jonas, who dropped to the floor as though the Honduran midfielder had gone at him with a baseball bat. Many more times throughout the game, Unai Emery players dropped to floor in styles that young Tom Daley would be proud of.
The early scare seemed to encourage the Spanish La Liga outfit to take control of proceedings in the Potteries, as they controlled possession and started to show the passing abilities that have given them the title of 'one of the best teams in Europe`.
Just after the half hour mark, a poor and rushed clearance from Stoke captain, Ryan Shawcross, found Turkish international midfielder, Mehmet Topal, who struck a stunning, unstoppable effort from 30 yards straight into the top corner, leaving Asmir Begovic with no chance.
The goal left the Britannia silent, except for the small hum coming from the 55 travelling Valencia fans in the away stand.
Stoke came out of the blocks from the restart and tried to get on level terms immediately, as Jermaine Pennant found space on the right wing and drilled the ball across the box in the direction of Peter Crouch, who seemed to be pushed to the ground before he could reach the ball.
The Britannia Stadium faithful were in uproar demanding a penalty, but Danish official, Peter Rasmussen, rightly turned away the cries, as replays showed the beanpole striker backing into the defender.
Stoke continued to pile on the pressure before the break, as Pennant once again found space on the right and floated a cross over to English striker Crouch, who acrobatically tried to direct the ball home with a spectacular bicycle kick, only to see it go narrowly over the bar.
Valencia managed to get to half time with their lead intact and, after the break, they nearly doubled it when the ever energetic Piatti found Feghouli, who was allowed to cut inside Andy Wilkinson, only for his shot to be half blocked by Robert Huth`s leg. The ball then crashed the post and hit Begovic on his back and to safety. The ball could have gone anywhere after the deflection as Stoke rode their luck.
Valencia continued to keep possession of the ball well, which forced Pulis` hand to make some changes, as the Welsh manager decided to replace Palacios, Wilkinson and Crouch for Whitehead, Shotton and Jerome respectively.
The subs seemed to liven up the Potters. Robert Huth managed to connect to Pennant`s corner, as he got in front of his marker, though his volley went wide.
Stoke continued to search for an equaliser as goalkeeper, Vicente Guaita, was forced into his first save of the match. Etherington manufactured space on the left hand side and swung over a cross which found Walters, who nodded the ball into the direction of substitute Cameron Jerome, who, in turn, laid the ball off to fellow sub Ryan Shotton, who hit a drive towards goal. The shot deflected off a Valencia defender, changing its direction, but Guaita changed direction well and stopped the ball hitting the net.
The game then ended in a farce, as the referee seemed to lose control of the match and penalise every challenge made by Stoke players; the Valencia players seeing the damp Britannia Stadium pitch as a chance to stake a late challenge for their respective countries` Olympic diving teams ahead of the London 2012 Olympics.
Rasmussen showed 5 Stoke players yellow cards in the last 5 minutes, but ignored a horrific challenge by Valencia`s Alberto Costa on Dean Whitehead, which left the midfielder with a couple of nasty scratches on his shin.
The 1-0 win for Valencia was their first over an English club in 9 attempts.