Verdict: Stoke City 1 Manchester City 1
A game of two halves saw Roberto Macini’s side grateful to be level at half-time and gutted to be the same at the final whistle. An extra time equaliser for Stoke took the shine off Micah Richards’ brilliant opener which looked to have given us victory at an icy Britannia Stadium.
On reflection a draw was a fair result given our timid first half performance. Tottenham and United may have won at the Britannia this season, but Stoke are now in good form and the icy pitch was more than a leveller – it gave Tony Pulis’ side a distinct advantage.
The Stoke manager spoke during the week about how impressed he had been with City’s performance at Fulham. He must have been delighted with the frozen pitch that hindered our passing game.
Do they have undersoil heating at the Britannia? Maybe someone forgot to switch it on. It mattered not to Stoke who kept the ball in the air with a barrage of throws, set pieces and long balls.
With the honourable exception of Silva, City’s midfield didn’t look up for the game during a first half that brought back memories of past away drubbings. It wasn’t so much the tactics as the application that was lacking.
With Zabaleta suspended and Boateng only deemed fit enough for the bench, Richards was selected for right-back. Yaya was surprisingly unavailable, as was Adebayor. Milner played in the central creative role, while Balotelli replaced Jo on the left side of attack.
The selection of Balotelli for such a game was questionable. The resulting performance did little to counter the notion that he’d rather be elsewhere. Rarely involved in the first half, there were moments of skill in the second as we played higher up the pitch.
Stoke needed little encouragement to go in strong on the Italian and he was more than happy to go down as a result. It was quite comic and the contrast with the battling Tevez was striking.
In the first half City’s passing was woeful, gifting Stoke the opportunity to launch balls into our box. Our goal led a charmed life at set pieces as we appeared to have under prepared for the aerial bombardment.
With Kompany, Richards and Boateng all nursing injuries during the week, training may well have been compromised. There was a case for playing Lescott with his height and strength in this fixture, and during the first half Fuller and Jones caused our defence a host of problems.
After Stoke’s onslaught, the fact that we weren’t behind at half-time was down to poor finishing rather than any great mental strength on our behalf. The difference with this side could be seen in the second period. Rather than face more of the same, City steadily managed to exert their quality.
Mancini had been complaining to the referee when walking off at half-time. Brian Kidd did his best to usher our manager away. With Mancio’s temper up, the dressing room must have been a lively place after such a timid 45 minutes.
Whatever was said took immediate effect as our passing improved immeasurably and Barry came into the game, linking with the forwards. Silva and Tevez were also able to link up, and the Spaniard increasingly set the rhythm for the game.
Stoke were pushed back and we looked the more likely to score. It was an impressive turnaround. The exception was Milner who didn’t seem on the same wavelength as his colleagues. The former Villa man’s form is more of a concern than that of Adam Johnson, who seems to get more media attention.
Milner’s most significant contribution was a goal-line clearance from a Huth header at a Stoke corner. A reminder of the threat the Potters still presented at set-pieces.
Shortly afterwards came the breakthrough with a piece of skill out of keeping with all that had gone before. Richards pressed forward and looked to be receiving the ball simply to lay it off for Milner. At least that’s what the defender thought as he made an anticipatory move away from Micah.
Instead our right-back let the ball continue, and spun to follow it into the penalty area. A quick touch and shot saw the ball fly into the bottom corner.
The sense that we might be about to break our Stoke hoodoo was palpable. For the next few minutes we played keep-ball as we had against Fulham. This surprising sense of comfort proved false.
As we entered additional time, a Stoke free kick saw Huth head a good chance over and the Potters began to believe again. Our nerves showed in Kolo’s fateful punt upfield that conceded possession. For such an experienced player, it was a major error, and one out of character for a defender who is normally our most composed passer.
The return ball was flicked on to Tuncay. With Kolo out of position, Richards had gone to the Turk and de Jong was left to track Etherington. Sadly he wasn’t able to catch the Stoke winger after he was played in by Tuncay’s backheel, and we had to come to terms with a last minute equaliser.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game and like I said before I think 1-1 was a good result.
“It was a bit disappointing how it happened but we will learn from this and we’ll take our point.”
To be so close to three points left a sense of having victory stolen away. Stoke’s 16 goal attempts to our 10 suggests that overall a draw was far from unfair. It appeared worse with Arsenal and United winning. If Tottenham fail to win against Liverpool it will be less of a concern.
Seven points from our last three away games is no mean return, and Mancini must now turn his attentions to our patchy home record. In the race for a top four place, a draw puts pressure on the next result to be a victory. If that’s achieved then this result looks a lot more acceptable.