Verdict: Stoke City 1 Manchester City 1
Goals: Whelan 72 mins for Stoke. Barry 85 mins for City.
A game that had threatened to be tempestuous didn’t disappoint, with City fortunate to come away with a point after going behind to 10 men for the second season running at the Britannia Stadium. Last season this fixture saw a desperate City performance and this wasn’t any easier for those blues who witnessed it.
City’s starting line-up didn’t inspire confidence with Bridge and Wright-Phillips, the best two performers on Saturday, both starting on the bench. Apparently, Wayne’s knee couldn’t take another game in such a short space of time and Wright-Phillips wasn’t 100% fit either.
Richards came in at right-back and his physical presence was much needed as City conceded a host of throw-ins, corners and free-kicks in the opening period. With our defensive midfield trio of de Jong, Vieira and Barry, we were hopelessly deep and narrow.
Adebayor and Santa Cruz failed to gel as a partnership, with Roque looking well short of form and fitness. In between the defensive midfielders and the strikers was the lone creative spark of Adam Johnson. It was to much responsibility for the new signing, particularly with the poor pitch and close attentions of Stoke defenders.
For the opening 20 minutes, Johnson was barely involved as we allowed Stoke to pummel our goal. They managed a couple of chances, but in fairness the zonal defending just about held up. The Wearsider started on the right flank, which left us unbalanced, particularly without Bridge’s energy on the left.
The unmistakable figure of Vieira was often the centre of attention and the Frenchman soon drew the wrath of the Britannia crowd with a petulent boot into the groin of Whelan. It wasn’t much, but it was unneccessary and Wright-Phillips got a retrospective three match ban for less when we played here last season.
As the first half wore on, City started to string a few passes together, but with Johnson’s crosses failing to find the strikers, there was still little to cheer. Barry sliced one chance wide, while Santa Cruz fluffed a Johnson cross that did find it’s target.
Half-time came as a relief. It was to be hoped Stoke had thrown their best at us, and a couple of tactical changes by Mancini would see us pull a result out of the bag. It didn’t quite go like that, but we did get a potential break just before the hour mark.
Amdy Faye misjudged a through-ball and Adebayor looked to be getting away, when the Stoke captain brought him down. The linesman saw the offence and Faye was off. City finally started to press forward with some determination and Wright-Phillips was introduced for Garido.
This resulted in the high risk gamble of moving Barry to left-back. Given the problems Fuller had been causing us before, it was no surprise to see him target the England midfielder. This came to a head when a clumsy challenge from Barry saw them both go over in the area. Fortune smiled and the referee waved play on.
Memories of last season came flooding back however when the 10 men of Stoke took the lead. A poor pass from Johnson conceded possession to Whelan and the former City youngster hit a hopeful shot goalwards. Our normally reliable shot-stopper failed to get his body behind it, and Given conceded the worst goal of his City career so far.
The situation was now as desperate as City’s tactics. Balls were going into the Stoke box, but to little effect. The crosses weren’t good enough, there was no playmaker capable of a subtle pass, and the forwards looked unable to get the better of the Stoke defence.
Zabaleta came on for Richards, who presumably was feeling the strain of his recent injuries. Neither of the two right-backs showed sufficient ability to pick a pass with Zabaleta in particular conceding needless possession at a crucial stage in the match.
Eventually a lofted ball was flicked on by Adebayor for Barry to send a shot onto the post. He did well to adjust and knock in the rebound.
City were now going flat out for the winner, but still lacking guile. Petrov came on for Johnson, but once again failed to make an impact.
With five minutes of injury time signalled, there was hope of a United style winner, but this is City. Somehow in the final minute we found ourselves defending a Delap throw. Stoke threw the big guys forward for one last time and Shawcross nodded the ball in. Personally I felt Shay had been pushed in mid-air for the kind of foul that is normally given these days, but others thought the goal should have stood.
To lose in such circumstances would have been catastrophic. Despite moving up to fourth, a point still may not be enough for us to hold on to a Champions League place.
“We should have got it down the channels for Shaun or Adam, but too often we played it down the middle.
“We were too quiet at times and we had some good chances to win this game.
“We made mistakes but in the end we got a goal when we needed it. But this was two points less than what we wanted. Fourth is not a bad position, but it would have been better with a win.
“Now we must recover, I hope we can come back and win in the cup next week but tonight, we should have looked for two more points than we got.”
The Liverpool game now looks like a must-win given our remaining fixtures. We can be thankful that it will be a different type of game, and one our players should be more comfortable with. Rafa Benitez will no doubt have noted how we struggle when teams get “in our faces” so we should expect the kind of game they normally reserve for United.
For next weeks return to the Britannia, it’s to be hoped Kompany is available and selected alongside Lescott – the one player who came out of this fixture with any credit. In midfield, it’s time to ditch the defensive trio of Barry, de Jong and Vieira from the Mancini masterplan. Our Italian manager has a lot of work to do, and no more room for error.