A point-blank header from Peter Crouch earned Stoke a superb draw with Manchester United yesterday, ending the visitors perfect start to the Premier League season.
The new record signing rose to meet a Matthew Etherington corner in the 52nd minute, after Nani had given United the lead in the first half with an outstanding individual effort.
If luck had been on Stoke’s side, the result may have been even better – as Crouch threatened on a number of occasions.
Wayne Rooney was left out of the United squad with a hamstring injury.
And the surprise omission for the Potters was Robert Huth, the German defender has played in every game of the Potters’ season so far but Pulis preferred Wilkinson at right back, with Jonathan Woodgate partnering Ryan Shawcross.
There was immediately danger for Stoke as Javier Hernandez latched onto a long punt from Phil Jones and found himself through with only Begovic to beat, but Woodgate recovered in time to tackle the Mexican from behind – and despite big calls for a penalty, the referee waved it away and Hernandez was forced to make way for Michael Owen after injuring himself in the collision.
Stoke responded with pressure of their own, and a succession of Rory Delap throw-ins troubled David De Gea in United’s goal, before a whipped corner from Etherington found Crouch at the far post, but the £10million signing failed to hit the target when he really should’ve found the back of the net.
Stoke continued to force the issue as United soaked up pressure, but a Berbatov header from an Anderson corner reminded the Potters of the visitor’s obvious threat.
And it was the ever-impressive Nani who broke the deadlock in the 25th minute with a stunning finish from a wonderfully constructed move.
The Portugese International evaded the advances of Woodgate and played a one-two with Darren Fletcher, before receiving the ball and placing it calmly in the bottom corner of the net.
Stoke were stunned by a goal of such quality, but they looked to hit back straight away and had Andy Wilkinson’s fierce drive from outside of the area not been tipped onto the bar by De Gea – the roof would’ve blown off the Britannia.
Wilkinson continued to impress in the first half, and it was a typical brave challenge in winning a header when he was in danger of being kicked full in the face which allowed Delap the opportunity to shoot – but the 35-year-old dragged his shot wide.
Stoke continued to press in search of an equaliser and after a Crouch flick on found Jon Walters, the Ireland man struck a rasping shot which looked certain to nestle into the bottom corner, but De Gea produced a save befitting of his £18 million pricetag as he tipped it round the post.
Another opportunity, this time from a corner, saw Jonathan Woodgate spurn a chance from six yards out.
As Stoke pressed for the leveller, United searched for a second.
Phil Jones impressed throughout the first-half and another outrageous burst forward saw him beat Wilkinson before delivering a cross which Woodgate managed to head out for a corner, as Owen and Berbatov were waiting to pounce.
Stoke’s positive display despite conceding the goal continued to flourish, with the final-action of the first-half seeing a Walters cross just evading Crouch & Pennant at the back post.
What came after the break, was probably the best half of football you’ll see from a Stoke City side.
The Potters were immediately on the front foot after a promising first half, and Tony Pulis had clearly rallied his troops in the dressing room as red & white shirts surged forward in the hope of gaining an early leveller.
In the 52nd minute, Stoke finally found it, as Peter Crouch rose in the penalty area to nod home an Etherington corner, with the keeper standing in no man’s land.
The former England man wheeled away in delight towards the corner of the Boothen & Seddon stands as three and a half sides of the Britannia erupted.
Stoke’s confidence was now soaring and United were struggling to cope with the Potters’ dominance.
And Stoke should’ve taken the lead just moments later, as Crouch found himself with just the keeper to beat, his prodded effort was saved instinctively by De Gea.
Jermaine Pennant floated in a beautifully weighted cross, and with Rio Ferdinand getting caught under the ball, Crouch looked to seize the opportunity but United’s Spanish keeper almost unknowingly kept the effort out with his shoulder.
United then threatened themselves and Begovic had to be alert to deny Ashley Young after the England winger ghosted into the penalty area.
Stoke were then awarded a free-kick from just outside of the area and despite Pennant and Etherington’s yearn to take it, Marc Wilson stepped up and unleashed a huge pile-driver which De Gea was content to beat away.
United want to win every game though, and despite Stoke’s efforts in attempting to gain the lead, Ferguson threw on Ryan Giggs and Danny Welbeck as the Reds searched for a goal which would continue their perfect start to the season.
And with Nani being almost unplayable, the Stoke defence was having their hands well and truly full.
Michael Owen had a great chance to level but the former Liverpool poacher is clearly not what he once was and his tame effort after a low cross from the left didn’t trouble Stoke’s goal.
Danny Welbeck was threatening as soon as he was brought on, and a low cross which was drilled across the area was magnificently intercepted by Ryan Shawcoss.
Nani was mesmerising at times, and the 24-year-old twisted and turned before firing a dangerous strike just over the bar – it certainly looked like, if United were to get the winner, it would come from his brilliance.
It then took a great interception from Ryan Shawcross as Danny Welbeck drilled a low-cross towards Owen.
Fans favourite Robert Huth was then introduced to the game in place of the terrific Andy Wilkinson, who looked to be suffering from cramp.
He immediately lined up for a Matthew Etherington corner, and Peter Crouch had an opportunity at the back-stick but he failed to force the ball on target.
Stoke’s last opportunity to win the game again fell to Crouch, as he chested the ball down in the area before failing to connect properly with a volleyed effort.
Four minutes of stoppage time were then announced and there was typically, one last chance for United which stunned the Britannia into a silence for a moment.
Nani delivered a quality ball into the path of the onrushing Ryan Giggs, but the Welsh wizard volleyed his effort over the bar when it looked like it was easier to score.
With the referee about to blow his whistle, Jon Walters latched onto a ball down the channels but his tired cross was unsurprising after another sensationally hard working performance from the former Ipswich captain.
De Gea’s resulting kick forward was then greeted by a rapturous applause as the referee blew his whistle to end a special Stoke performance and a hugely absorbing encounter.
Asmir Begovic 7
A couple of dodgy moments in the first half were redeemed by a solid display, but surprisingly, he didn’t have many saves to make as Stoke’s defence looked to cope with what United had to offer going forward.
Andy Wilkinson 9
This is Wilkinson at his best. Fiery, committed, hugely-effective and for me, an absolute shoe-in at right back on this form.
He nearly got knocked out after putting his head on someone’s boot, and if it wasn’t for a stunning stop from the keeper, he would’ve marked such a performance with a goal.
All in all, the guy was outstanding.
Ryan Shawcross 8
He never has a bad game, and after the heroics of Woodgate and Huth in recent times, he’s largely gone under the radar. But everyone at Stoke likes it like that, what an awesome player this lad is, another great performance against top opposition.
You get the feeling though, that if he hasn’t been called up to the England squad yet, he never will, especially after a scary performance from Phil Jones at the heart of the United defence today, he’s one of the best players I’ve seen play at the Britannia.
Jonathan Woodgate 9
He can only be described as that, just an utterly perfect performance, you can see why Real Madrid signed him, put it that way…
Marshalled the troops brilliantly, was confident in possession, and just strolled through the whole game – he’s that good, it’s laughable.
Marc Wilson 8
He’s always impressed me at full back, and whilst some want him to move into centre midfield or for Pulis to buy a ‘proper’ full-back, he’s quality in defence, and some of the touches he makes going forward really are top class.
I hope he’s at Stoke for a while yet, he’s going to be one hell of a player, if he isn’t already.
Jermaine Pennant 9
Okay, so I’ve dished out a few 9s already, but if you’re not going to do it after today’s game, when are you?!
This was Pennant at his best – simply unplayable. Might I remind you he was up against Patrice Evra today, and he tormented him throughout, the United defence didn’t have a clue how to deal with him – it was just an awesome performance and another inspired signing which embodies the genius in Pulis.
Glenn Whelan 8
It just shows how much match practice helps in football. This guy has been in and out of our side for years, and he’s been largely inconsistent in many ways.
Today, he was just quality, using the ball well, he had a better game than both of United’s duo in the middle of the park today.
Rory Delap 8
I thought he was finished. And I’m sure many others did. He looked leggy towards the back end of last season, and he’s, what? 35 now?
This was Delap at his best, winning second ball after second ball in midfield, using the ball intelligently and breaking down play with ease – after performing like this, Pulis playing Palacios ahead of either Delap or Whelan will be a risk!
Matthew Etherington 7
For me, Etherington wasn’t at his best today, but he was pinned back by Valencia who was playing at full back today – and Etherington’s not been fully fit for a while. As much as he wasn’t as influential as he can be, his pin-point corner did provide the goal.
He’s a top footballer, but today I don’t think he impressed as the others did.
Jon Walters 8
This guy is a complete loony(In a good way). He can’t be human, I refuse to believe that. He’s everywhere, absolutely everwhere, and he uses the ball so well. If him and Crouch are playing like this after just one match together, imagine how they’ll be in a few weeks’ time?
Peter Crouch 8
I was moaning about him at half-time, as he seemed rather ineffective and he missed a guilt-edged opportunity at the back post.
But, his second half performance was one of the best I’ve seen from a Stoke player. He was faultless on the ball, doing exactly what you want of him, in holding the ball up and laying it out wide, he was nothing short of unplayable.
The equaliser marked his fantastic second half display, but had he have converted one of his many chances, especially the close-range effort which was prodded at De Gea – he’d have been chasing a 10 from me today.
Extremely promising from the big man.
Tony Pulis – A big, fat 10 – all of this is down to him, the players he’s signed, the way they came out second half, the perfect organisation, it’s all second to none.
People were moaning about his selection and tactics last week after we lost, I don’t know why, because we were just extremely unlucky last week and nothing went for us.
Well done Tony Pulis, it must be fantastic for him seeing the club he has built performing as it is right now.
From the back to the front, that was probably the best Stoke performance I’ve ever seen.
We were absolutely phenomenal, and on another day, we could’ve easily beaten Man United, who in my opinion are the best side in Europe at this moment in time.
The work-rate which Pulis has instilled is like no other, you can just see how it’s all fitting into place. It was just a stunning performance which will live long in every Stoke fan’s memory – from the outstanding Woodgate, to the unplayable Jermaine Pennant, every single one of those Stoke players yesterday performed heroically.
I doubt we’ll ever see a Stoke team as good as this, but then again, I’ve been saying that for the last few years…
This just proves, Stoke aren’t a flash in the pan, we’re here to stay and we’re here to compete – certainly, a result today which has seen United’s perfect record halted, means the Potters are going to take some stopping this season, could we possibly remain unbeaten all season at the Britannia?