STOKE CITY 1, MANCHESTER CITY 1
In the straight line race to the Premier League finish line City suffered another stumble at the Britannia Stadium after they first went behind to a world class Peter Crouch goal and then had to make do with a Yaya Toure equaliser instead of another dramatic win. City returned to the top of the Barclays Premier League with the point but United play their game in hand against Fulham on Monday and could pull 3 points clear with a win at Old Trafford.
The home side hadn’t been beaten by a top 5 side this season and that record was maintained as jaded City finally ran out of steam trying to score a winning goal against a side that had already played forty eight games this season.
There were just two changes from the Manchester City side that beat Chelsea in midweek. Sergio Aguero missed out with a foot injury and was replaced by the physical presence of Edin Dzeko while Gareth Barry retained his place in the side at the expense of Nigel De Jong as City came to the Britannia Stadium expecting a battle and certainly got one.
David Silva bore the brunt of Stoke’s close attention early on and got clattered on the jaw by Dean Whitehead’s elbow. Silva needed a bandage on his head while Whitehead wasn’t punished. The Spaniard had been out of sorts recently and he almost got his side into trouble with a badly mishit clearance back into his own area before half time.
After an attritional, tactical battle in the first half, Stoke put their stamp on the game with a couple of late chances to score. Glenn Whelan’s penalty call was turned down by Howard Webb after he appeared to be fouled in the area by Gareth Barry while Pablo Zabaleta was at hand to clear off the line direct from a corner which threatened to go in.
City had also been responsible for wasteful finishing. Edin Dzeko headed wide with an open goal to choose from while Mario Balotelli and Yaya Toure were also wasteful.
Two years ago Peter Crouch was the man who denied City a place in the Champions League as the then Spurs striker scored a goal that sent Tottenham into 4th place at the end of the season at the expense of City.
City won that 4th spot at the end of last season and dealt a 5-1 thrashing to Spurs side including Crouch at White Hart Lane in August last year.
Now at Stoke, Peter Crouch cropped up again to throw a spanner into Manchester City’s title hopes with a goal that ultimately held City to a draw.
Crouch’s goal just before the hour lit up a dour game that was meandering. It was breathtakingly world class from a player who, despite his International scoring record, had been overlooked by England recently.
The tall Stoke striker collected the ball with a flick off his boot, turned, and volleyed the ball over Joe Hart from 25 yards away outside the corner of the area. It was a once in a lifetime finish and one the striker claimed to practice every day.
Not for the first time the opposition fans mocked City with a version of the Poznan that almost a year ago had lit up Wembley but had been fading since United fans mercilessly aped it in the away end at the Etihad following Wayne Rooney’s second goal during City’s FA Cup exit this year.
Just as in the Chelsea game on Wednesday, Roberto Mancini threw the kitchen sink at their opponents and got an equaliser with fifteen minutes to go courtesy of Yaya Toure’s 35 yarder which took a deflection off Ryan Shawcross to wrongfoot Asmir Begovic in the Stoke goal.
On Wednesday night it ended with a famous victory, but City ran into a stone wall at the Britannia that could cost them the title.