Stoke 1-1 City

stoke report

Very frustrating.

A point away to Stoke, who were coming off the back off three successive victories is not to be sniffed at, yet there is a palbable sense that this was a missed opportunity: two points very much dropped rather than having picked up a useful point at a difficult opponent.

It wasn't quite a 'game of two halves', and at half-time you would have gladly taken the draw, yet after the break City were the more resourceful and more purposeful of the two. With Stoke tiring as time went on it appeared that City would be the likely winner. I tweeted during the game that I thought a moment of quality could be enough to seal the win, and although it came from an unlikely source so it almost proved.

There is no question that Stoke were the better side early in the game. City appeared to be unable to settle early, with Stoke pressing well and playing with great tempo. Quick to get the ball wide and put balls into the box their gameplan was to test the City defence, and test them often.

City dominated the possession (56% to 44%) over the first-half but had nothing tangible to show for it. Possession was largely restricted in deep lying positions, where Tevez, Silva and Balotelli could not be utilised. Stoke on the other hand were quick to get the ball forward and pressure the City back line but apart from a bad miss by Ricardo Fuller, mustered little in the way of genuine opportunity.

It was apparent that Yaya Toure's absence was a key one, with neither Gareth Barry nor James Milner imposing themselves on the game and Nigel de Jong's unable to dominate his territory in midfield. For all the criticism Toure has received this season, there is no doubting he is a big presence in midfield and it was not until after the break, when Milner and Barry had clearly had instruction from Mancini, that the midfield began to create.

David Silva - probably the best player on the day - became even more involved, but with Barry and (to a lesser extent) Milner further forward, he had more options, also drawing Tevez (well marshalled for the most part) into the play. City also began to test Begovic in the Stoke goal further with a couple of long range efforts.

Although heading into the final ten minutes, it didn't feel that City were settling for the draw and Micah Richards turned on the edge of the box before smashing the ball beyond Begovic to seemingly win the game. It was the moment of skill perhaps anticipated, but from the most unlikely of sources (well, Nigel de Jong aside).

With City comfortable in possession with time ticking down, from Toure's misplaced long ball (shades of Bellamy at home to United last year?) Stoke broke forward and an intuitive backheel from Tuncay set Etherington up to level the game deep into stoppage time.

Having gone in at half-time level (whether that was just or not is open to debate), the second half performance I thought was enough to earn the victory but having taken the lead so late, it is inconceivable that the lead was lost. As skillful as Richards move was in putting City ahead, Stoke's goal even more so and I'm sure they would have felt aggrieved had they got nothing from the game - certainly so based on Tony Pulis's post-match comments.

Whilst it could be argued that this was the type of game lost last season, ambitions are now higher. Expectations are that fourth place is a minimum, with results elsewhere, taking only a point failed to assert City's position in the top four further - meaning an eye remains on the chasing sides as opposed to looking up.

 

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