Date: 22nd March 2008 at 11:59pm
Written by: Charlie Bennett

Stoke stay top of the championship after a hard fought one all draw with Blackpool at the Britannia stadium. An early second half goal from central defender Leon Cort levelled things up after Ben Burgess had given the visitors the lead.

With Fuller, Lawrence and Shawcross all suspended there was a home debut for on loan Paul Gallagher who started out on the left wing, with Mamady Sidibe being partnered up front by Richard Cresswell. Salif Diao was drafted into centre midfield along side Glenn Whelan with Rory Delap out on the right side of midfield.

After a half hour delay to kick off, Stoke made the brighter start immediately putting the Blackpool defence under pressure with former Senegal international Diao having a long range attempt that just cleared the cross bar, and Sidibe hit the post after Gallagher`s delivery. But only 3 minutes later Diao stayed down after trying to defend a Blackpool set piece and was forced to leave the pitch with a hamstring strain and was replaced by local boy Andy Wilkinson.

Stokes early pressure almost got its reward when Sidibe charged down Blackpool keeper Rachubka`s kick with the ball looping towards the empty net. The chase was on to see who could get there first, but the big Mali striker was just piped to the ball by the desperate defending of the impressive Kaspars Gorkks who cleared it for a corner.

As the first half went on Blackpool got into the game and started having a few attacks of their own, with Carlo Nash having to keep out the lively Stephen Mcphee. Stoke responded well with Paul Gallagher forcing Rachubka to make a decent stop after linking up with Glenn Whelan.

Blackpool took the lead in the 37th minute when Ben Burgess was the quickest to get to Mcphee`s flick, and stab the ball towards the goal which took a cruel deflection of Cort and flew past Nash to nestle in the back of the net.

After being booed off at half time Stoke kicked into gear and almost got an instant equaliser, as a deep in swinging Gallagher corner was strangely headed back into the danger area from Blackpool`s Burgess where Cort was waiting. The prolific defender coolly slotted the ball beyond the dive of Rechubka.

With Delilah echoing round the stadium, the inspired potters piled on the pressure but neither Cresswell nor Sidibe could find the clinical strike that would put them in firm control.

With about 20 minutes remaining Pulis decided replace Wilkinson with new loan signing Jay Bothroyd who looked sharp and menacing. His delightful cross found Sidibe who had the goal gaping but was just muscled out by the impressive Gorkss.

Bothroyd continued to press the defence and supplied Cresswell with a golden opportunity, which the former Leeds striker squandered. In the dying minutes Stoke pressed and pressed for a winner and almost found one with another Gallagher corner. Sidibe towered above everyone else only to see his bullet header cleared off the line. Stoke kept on pushing but it just wasn`t to be their day, however with Bristol City losing at Cardiff and Watford drawing at Plymouth it might not have been a bad result after all.

Stoke City Nash, Griffin (C), Cort (Zakuani 53), Riggot, Pugh, Delap, Diao (Wilkinson 5, Bothroyd 68), Whelan, Gallagher, Cresswell, Sidibe.Subs: Simonsen, Parkin

Blackpool Rachubka, Crainey, Gorkss (C), Evatt, Barker, Jorgensen, Flynn, Taylor-Fletcher (Holt), Hoolahan, Burgess, Mcphee. Subs Coid, Morrel, Fox, Welsh


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