Stoke 1 - 1 City

This was hopefully the game that would kick start us into a crucial spell of games following a recent run where things have not quite clicked on the pitch.

Of course, the game was also one of our games in hand and presented a big opportunity for us to put some distance over Liverpool ahead of our clash this Sunday. As ever though, too much credence is perhaps afforded to games in hand, which can become almost mythical in their ability to guarantee points ahead of actually winning them.

And so it proved tonight. Yet it could have been so much worse.

It took a late goal from Gareth Barry - only his second of the season - to rescue a point against a Stoke side who had been reduced to ten men on the hour mark yet took the lead with a helping hand from Shay Given.

The main threat from Stoke is no great surprise, and whilst it made for tough viewing, we acquitted ourselves well defensively against the aerial bombardment. The return of Richards at the back for Zabaleta a good move, and one which strengthened us aerially. Less obvious was the replacement of Bridge by Garrido, a strange call given Bridge's expected importance going forward.

Going forward, switching to a twin pronged attack should have provided a far greater threat yet neither Santa Cruz nor Adebayor really impressed; the absence of Bellamy and Tevez becoming more apparant by the game. The midfield was solid enough - as you'd expect - and whilst Johnson was lively and saw plenty of the ball, he was the only realistic attacking outlet in midfield. Although Wright-Phillips and Petrov were introduced late, you wonder whether they (and indeed Stephen Ireland) are best served on the bench. Roberto Mancini though may well argue that a point is a good return and his tactics and formation were justified, yet we should not have been in a postion where we were indebted to a late equaliser against a side reduced to ten men.

Putting a positive spin on the evening though, whilst the performance didn't exactly put an end to recent struggles in the context of the game was a well earned point. From a game that appeared set for defeat, the result saw us grab sole possession of fourth spot.

Still plenty of questions remain though.

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