At last! The brand spanking new season is here!! Thousands upon thousands of Stoke fans have been confined to the dark corners of every room to sit in a foetus position and rock back and forth for the duration of the football-free summer, but now we can come away from the corner, and sit infront of the radio, TV, dodgy streaming website or indeed, in front of the action live from the grounds to witness our mighty red and white side compete in the Premier League.
Michael Kightly was the only debutant for the Potters in what was a typical team selection for Pulis with Jamie Ness warming up the bench. Geoff Cameron wasn`t involved at all, but rest assured that we`ll be seeing him at some point soon… hopefully.
Kick-off was built up with much anticipation, especially from the newly-promoted Reading fans, but it was a rather dull start to the game with not much action happening in either of the final thirds. However the first sight of a chance fell to Stoke when Jon Walters cut inside to wrong-foot his marker and attempted to curl it into the top corner from 20 yards out. A gracious effort, however he hit it too hard and it flew over.
Asmir Begovic was put under pressure a few minutes afterwards, but he bravely came out to deal with the danger in the midst of bodies and was knocked to the ground. He needed treatment for his jaw, but managed to recover and continue after an on looking Thomas Sorensen warmed up.
First attempt from Reading came in the form of Kasparss Gorkss when he got up for the header unmarked from a corner. The ball came off his head brilliantly as it was a flat and quick effort, but his direction let him down slightly as it flashed wide.
Walters was eying up goal once more when his machine-propelled-like legs raced past his marker to get on the end of Kightly`s cross from the right flank. His header was a good one, and one that had the keeper rooted to the spot in the hope of it going wide, which it did. Placement was almost spot on, with it heading towards the far bottom corner, out of the keeper`s reach; we just needed to either breath in to suck the ball into the net, or move the stadium an inch or two to the left.
Reading started to have a little spell of possession as they tried to surge forward and catch our defence out, but Stoke we alert as always with Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth partnering well as usual.
Just over half an hour played and then, almost out of nothing, a GOAL followed for the mighty Potters. Glenn Whelan, who hadn`t had much impact up until now, flicked the ball up and into the area which was only half cleared by a scrambling defence. The ball fell kindly for Kightly, who controlled it brilliantly to bring it down and touch it forward to create the space. Most would have shot first straight after, but patience paid off as he stalled and picked his moment to strike. Perhaps not the most powerful of shots, and even though it was straight at the keeper, a simple routine save went horribly wrong when the attempt to clutch the ball to his chest was mistimed and it went straight through his arms. Face palm for the man between the sticks, but dubilacion for Michael and scoring on a debut!
Our red and white striped side ran rings round the blue and white hoops as front man Peter Crouch saw an opportunity. The ball was put through brilliantly for the man made out of golf clubs, and he swung his leg for the shot but the time, the keeper saved well and was on the ball.
Half time and a fairly evenly matched game at that point with Stoke just edging it toward the later stages. Complacency was not an option now as everyone wanted to hit the ground running for this new season, but was it to be at the Madejski Stadium? Only the second half would tell.
Team talks, thirst quenching, and toilet breaks over and done with and Stoke came out of the tunnel on the front foot. Crouch brought down an aerial ball to Walters who ventured forward a little on the wide; he curled in a cross deep and low as Kightly raced in to drive the ball towards the netting, but a foot of an opposition took care of the loose ball and put an end to the pressure.
Kightly was on a flyer as he displayed some superb ambitious runs and skilful footwork which will certainly give Jermaine Pennant, and even Mathew Etherington some much needed competition.
Dean Whitehead looked to be in trouble after he slid in on former Fulham hitman Pavel Pogrebnyak (try saying that after a couple). Foul and a free-kick on the edge of the Stoke area was given, but thankfully for now no further cards as Dean already earned himself a yellow for a previous challenge.
Reading`s most experienced player Ian Harte stepped up to take with the view to shoot, but the shot struck the solid wall and away with Whitehead breathing a sigh of relief.
Pogrebnyak wasn`t shying away from getting his studs into the ground as he continuously gave the defence grief, and a couple of cries for a penalty were waved away by the referee when the big Russian seemingly went down, but he was just the filling between a Shawcross and Huth sandwich.
Garath McCleary almost became the impact sub as his pounded on the ball and set up a lurking Pogrebnyak who let rip a shot, but Captain Fantastic Ryan was there to throw himself in the way and deflect it for a corner.
Finger nails were being chewed as Stoke typically started to sit back and soak up the pressure as the corner was floated in. Pavel was there again as he jumped up and headed on target but Asmir was near to clutch to his chest and show opposing ‘keeper Federici how it`s done.
Kightly and Etherington were replaced with Cameron Jerome and Rory Delap respectfully in what was now evident of an all-out defensive strategy adopted by Tony Pulis, but with only a handful of minutes to go, the tree points seemed to be just within reach.
Poor old Dean however flew himself into MaCleary inside the area to not only concede a penalty, but also to be shown and second yellow and a red. As he trudged off, Stoke`s remaining 10 men could only stand back and hope that Le Fondre would miss the last minute kick. Sure enough, he buried it for a GOAL and to bring Reading back to level terms, despite Begovic guessing the correct direction.
A few hoof balls later and the final whistle blew. I predicted 1-1 earlier so wasn`t entirely surprised by the result, however it was rather snatched away from us at the last because of a silly and rash mistake from an already cautioned player. Still, a point is a point, and we`ve got something to build on for the Arsenal game. I`m just glad weren`t in a position where we`d been beaten 3-0 by the likes of West Bromich Albion; boy how I would have cried, but from our actual perspective, I can cry with laughter and welcome a point on the opening day.
Federici, Gunter, Harte, Pearce, Gorkss, McAnuff, Leigertwood, Guthrie, Robson-Kanu (MCleary,67, Le Fondre, Pogrebnyak (Hunt,77).
Subs: McCarthy, Mariappa, Tabb, Church, Cummings.
Begovic, Wilkinson, Wilson, Shawcross, Huth, Kightly (Jerome,74), Whelan (Palacios,85), Whitehead, Etherington (Delap,80), Walters, Crouch.
Subs: Sorensen, Jones, Ness, Shotton.