Stoke pulled off an excellent result tonight, drawing 1-1 at Dynamo Kiev in their first ever Europa League group stage match, but it could’ve been even better for the Potters…
A second-half goal from debutant Cameron Jerome and a terrific defensive display looked to have secured a historic 3 points for the Potters – but a last-gasp strike from Vukojic ensured the spoils were shared.
Pulis opted to start the game with five men in defence, with the trio of Upson, Shawcross and Huth all playing at centre back. Wilkinson & Shottom meanwhile took their places as wing backs as Stoke looked to deny Kiev room and space, ahead of what promised to be a testing encounter.
Salif Diao took his place ‘in the cage’ alongside new signing Wilson Palacios, and Kenwyne Jones came back into the side, partnering debutant Cameron Jerome up front.
The opening stages of the game saw the Potters remain relatively comfortable, allowing Kiev plenty of the ball whilst restricting the the likes of Yarmelenko and Garmash to shots from outside of the area.
The first genuine effort on goal came from Andriy Shevchenko, the legendary striker picked up the ball 25-yards-out before unleashing a strike which whizzed past Sorenson’s goal.
The best chance of the half also fell to a Kiev striker – Thomas Sorenson could only palm a stinging drive from Popov into the path of the Yarmolenko, who failed to direct the ball goalwards, much to the frustration of his team-mates who felt he should’ve squared the ball.
Stoke looked to hit back, and their first effort came in the shape of Ryan Shotton, who struck a low volley wide of the goal after the ball was headed out to him from a corner.
As the half drew to a close, tackles were flying in and the referee’s uncompromising style saw Huth, Shawcross, Upson and Diao all pick up bookings.
Artem Milevskiy then spurned another chance for Kiev after a pinpoint cross from Silva, with the Ukranian international only mustering a toe-punt straight into Sorenson’s hands.
Stoke entered the break very happy with their display and the game was finely poised.
Kiev replaced Garmesh with the highly-rated Nigerian Lukman Haruna as they looked to wrestle the game from Stoke.
However, a quiet start to the second half soon shot into life as Stoke’s first real opening of the match proved crucial.
The impressive Ryan Shotton burst down the right-hand side of the pitch, before laying a beautifully weighted cross to debutant Cameron Jerome, who finished with aplomb from 6 yards out to give his new team the lead.
As the game wore on, Stoke were growing more stubborn by the minute, limiting Kiev to shots from outside of the area – and it was Aliev who was attempting to get his side back into the game with a succession of long-range efforts , without really troubling Sorenson.
Andriy Shevchenko then probably should’ve levelled the scoreline after seeing his shot from a lofted ball clear the crossbar.
Stoke were continuing to keep their shape admirably but as the Potters grew more tired, the Ukranians piled more bodys forward in the hope of grabbing an equaliser.
Jermaine Pennant replaced Cameron Jerome as Stoke looked to see out the game and Andy Wilkinson made way for Dean Whitehead.
Stoke were being put under plenty of pressure, but a fantastic piece of strength and skill saw Kenwyne Jones burst through the Kiev defensive lines but just as the front-men was about to release the trigger, Kiev defender Yussuf was on hand to snuff out the opportunity.
Andriy Shevchenko was continuing to prove his legs aren’t shot just yet, after a terrific piece of movement saw the striker one on one with Sorenson, but he was caught into minds and decided to pass the ball to Ideye Brown, who was nowhere in sight and Stoke breathed a sigh of relief.
The game was approaching the end and it looked for all the world that Stoke would be taking the 3 points all the way back to the Britannia after Ideye Brown nodded into Sorenson’s hands from a couple of yards out.
But one last bite was left in the Kiev tail, as the ball fell to Yarmolenko on the left hand side of the area, who drilled the ball across the goal for Vukojevic to force home and rescue a point for the hosts.
Stoke seemed rattled and the Ukranians weren’t done yet, a cross found Brown again but his shot flew past Sorenson’s goal.
The final piece of action saw Stokies around the world with hearts well and truly in their mouths.
Shawcross fouled Milevskiy on the edge of the penalty area – giving the ‘best free kick taker in Europe’, Aliev, a dead ball opportunity from around 25-yards away from the goal.
But after eyeing the ball up for what seemed to be an eternity, the Ukranian smashed the ball into the wall and the referee brought the game to an end, much to the relief of Stoke.
The Potters can be delighted with the performance tonight and there were many positives to take from the game despite the gut-wrenching leveller from Kiev.
Wilson Palacios fitted in superbly and Cameron Jerome’s performance will no doubt persuade even his most hardened of doubters that the former Birmingham striker has a major role to play at the club.
So all in all, it was disappointing to concede so late on but it was a fantastic effort from the lads today, with a terrific result to match.
Well done to the lads, and Vital Stoke wishes everyone travelling back from Kiev a safe journey home.
Roll on Sunderland!
Tommy Sorenson 7
Shaky at times and had trouble with a couple of shots in the first half. But otherwise very solid, and there was nothing he could’ve done to prevent the goal.
Andy Wilkinson 7
Played in an unfamiliar role as a left wing-back, but terrier-like defending and even a couple of forays forward completed a very assured performance from Wilko.
Ryan Shawcross 8
The defender had his hands full all night, but despite one moment which saw him mis-judge the flight of the ball in the area, he rarely looked troubled. Who’d have thought that when we signed him as an 18-year-old in August 2007, he’d be captaining the Potters in Europe against Dynamo Kiev, eh?
Matthew Upson 8
Like Shawcross, defended admirably – it was just such a shame that the late goal denied the defence the clean sheet it deserved.
Upson has really impressed me since joining, and I honestly thought he’d be a squad filler.
Robert Huth 7
The German dealt with everything Kiev threw at him in another dominating display, but perhaps he could’ve been a little closer to Vukojevic for the goal?
Glenn Whelan 7
Glenn used the ball well but most of his work was done off the ball, committed performance as ever.
Wilson Palacios 7
All eyes were on Palacios and he didn’t disappoint, we’ll see the best of him once he is fully fit and in slightly easier circumstances, but there’s no doubt after an assured display away at Dynamo Kiev, he’ll be running the show before too long.
Salif Diao 7
There were a few question marks over his selection tonight, but he broke up the play brilliantly and can be very proud of a typical performance which he seems to produce when against the bigger teams away from home.
Kenwyne Jones 7
He was always going to find it tough tonight with Stoke looking to hit Dynamo Kiev on the break rather than force the issue themselves. But he battled well and I’ve definitely noticed a change in his work-rate, another encouraging performances, and like Palacios, and Crouch against liverpool, his performances in the Premier League against similiar teams will be his bread and butter.
Cameron Jerome 8
I tipped him as the player to watch before the game, and boy did he deliver. He’ll slot into our team perfectly and this performance was evidence to that. Superb finish to round off a very decent performance.
Ryan Shotton 8
Last but by no means least – this lad had a faultless game. Brilliant throughout, not only did he set up the goal with a great piece of play but a couple of vital challenges were made when it looked like Kiev were set to unlock the Stoke defence. Well done again Ryan!