The first Premier League game of the season kicked off today with perhaps the toughest start we have ever faced, but it was a heroically fought match that grinded out a well deserved point for the Potters. It wasn`t without its casualties however as Mathew Etherington and Rory Delap sustained injuries, but are both hoping things aren`t as serious as first thought. Etherington will be having a scan on his shoulder tomorrow morning, whilst Delap will be checked out after his hamstring injury.
From new Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas‘ perspective, it was a disappointing introduction to his new club as they couldn`t surpass the last-ditch defending and ever stretching ‘keeper Asmir Begovic. However, he would have been naive if he was expecting an easy game at fortress Britannia Stadium as Stoke, and it`s sell-out crowd were up for this game to make up for a boring footyless summer.
Stoke seemed to have a hold against Chelsea during most of the first half, with us seeing a fair amount of possession. However, the first attempt was from Chelsea with Fernando Torres showing a glimpse of his ability as he sprinted down the right flank. Ryan Shawcross made a timely interception on the Spaniard and the ball fell to Jose Bosingwa who fired an audacious shot from long range. But Begovic was on top form, tipping the ball over the cross bar.
Moments later, Torres, after picking up the ball from 20 yards out and racing towards goal, he fired a powerful shot however accuracy was slightly off as he fired wide.
Chelsea had a penalty shout as Ramires put a through-ball to Salomon Kalou into the area. Etherington tackled him and he went to ground, but referee Mark Halsey was having none of it and waved play on. Replays showed that Kalou actually slipped so it was a good call from the ref.
One decision correct there, but it soon proved to be one of few correct decisions from him today. Stoke fans obviously voiced concerns of John Terry playing a different, and more intimate, ball game with the ref as a bribe, but Vital Stoke is yet to confirm the suspicions until we have seen the video tape (not that we particularly want to).
The excitement continued as Stoke were awarded a free-kick for a foul by Terry on Kenwyne Jones. Etherington whipped in a typical Etherington cross that curled into the area dangerously. The ball was met by the Berlin Wall Robert Huth`s head which was fractionally and frustratingly wide.
Etherington then exerted more pressure on Chelsea with another free-kick. He put in the cross which fell to the feet of Jones, who cleverly back-heeled it to Jermaine Pennant. He put in a cross himself to Jon Walters however helmeted Petr Cech claimed the ball with safe hands.
But all wasn`t safe for Cech moments later as he was forced to punch the ball after Walters was being troublesome again. Jon was tearing up the right wing as he made use of the space he had, and whipped in a cross, but Cech dealt with it well.
It was a heart in mouth moment for Stoke when Ramires stepped on the gas and zoomed forward with monumental momentum. Glen Whelan was made to look like Citroen 2CV as the Nissan Skyline of a run from Ramires shrugged him off before he unleashed a turbo cross into the box. But no one in blue was there on the other end of it, so the ball flashed across the face of goal.
Stoke had a blatant penalty denied by the balding ref (not sure what his receding hairline has got to do with anything but I`ll put it in there anyway because I`m miffed)! Walters had his flick blocked by Terry`s raised arm which angered Stoke fans and silenced Chelsea fans. But Delap picked up the lose ball and flew the ball in with his feet this time, however Alex and Bosingwa combined to clear the ball away. Not a happy Pulis steamed at the ears, but the ref was having none of it.
Suspicions of Terry and the ref grew amongst the fans, but rumours surfaced that Ashley Cole may have been involved too. However it seems Cole only shoots from a rifle of late according to sources closer to Cheryl. But we`re not interested in that hoo har.
Half time and it seemed pretty good from our perspective! Chelsea were getting more and more unsettled as the time went on, but we all knew that the game was not over yet! Villas-Boas may have still had a trick up his sleeve written in Biro on his arm, so Stoke needed to be resilient against the young manager`s side.
We were proved right as Chelsea came out with more confidence during the second period. Torres went close to scoring when he latched onto a Florent Malouda knockdown, but the phenomenal presence of Jonathan Woodgate put him off and stopped him from getting a shot on target.
Another penalty was denied, but this time it was at the expense of Chelsea. Marc Wilson put in a clumsy challenge which brought down Frank Lampard which encouraged the blue protests, however Halsey wasn`t rattled. Could it have been karma? Or perhaps Terry wasn`t as good of a performer as we thought.
This was certainly a match you couldn`t take your eyes off as City were to come under more pressure. Begovic was the one to keep us in it as he produced some excellent saves and put the cherry on the cake with his performance.
The Potters weren`t going to roll over as Chelsea became more desperate. Walters sprung clear down the left hand side, but when Jones laid off to Pennant, his shot was charged down.
Whelan had an opportunity to score a trademark volley from 25 yards, however his effort was slightly tame as he bounced into the hands of a relieved Cech.
A let-off for the Potters came when Ramires delivered a ball into the box first class, and Kalou had a free header, but it was only to be hit into Begovic as he caught the ball comfortably.
Villas-Boas threw on Drogba, Anelka and Benayoun as he became desperate to grab a late win and his first victory as boss. But last-ditch defending from Stoke saw out the game to a stalemate, which actually was an exciting return to the Premier League after the summer.
A great game and a great competition from both sides, however it is Stoke that can hold their heads high after a superb performance that will encourage many for the rest of the season to come.