PETER CROUCH’S eighth Premier League goal of the campaign was enough to secure Tony Pulis’ side a point from their final game of the 2012/13 season against Southampton at St. Mary’s on Sunday afternoon.
The England striker glanced home a delightful Geoff Cameron centre minutes after the half-time interval to fire the visitors ahead, however, the Saints pulled themselves level soon after through leading goalscorer Rickie Lambert.
The hosts will arguably be the more disappointed of the two sides not to have recorded victory on the final day having created numerous opportunities, only to find Stoke City’s Player of the Year Asmir Begovic once again in inspired form.
It was an emotional final twenty minutes as Michael Owen entered the fray from the substitutes bench, but there unfortunately wasn’t to be a fairytale ending for the England great, who received a standing ovation from each and every supporter inside the stadium.
The result means that the Potters drop down two places into 13th place in the final league table, after Fulham and Norwich City both leapfrogged the Potters, courtesy of surprising victories on the road against Swansea City and Manchester City.
Ahead of the game Tony Pulis recalled United States of American international Cameron to his starting line-up, replacing the suspended Charlie Adam, who was dismissed in his last outing against Tottenham.
England legend Owen was named amongst the substitutes on what was his final match as a professional having recently decided to hang up his boots at the end of the current campaign. There was also a spot on the bench for young midfielder Florent Cuvelier.
But for Asmir Begovic, the visitors would have found themselves behind in just the first minute as the hosts looked to get the party in full swing as they celebrated survival in what was their first season back in the top-flight.
Former Burnley striker Jay Rodriguez twisted and turned in the box, before firing a goal-bound effort towards the bottom corner of the net, only for Begovic to respond with a sublime save to palm his effort away.
Saints leading scorer Lambert calmly tucked the rebound home from an acute angle, but the linesman correctly raised his flag to rule out of the strike for offside, much to the frustration of the home supporters.
The hosts continued to look the brighter of the two sides during the initial exchanges with Adam Lallana firing wide from 20-yards, before Jack Cork stung the fingertips of Begovic with a ferocious effort from a similar distance.
Andy Wilkinson, who replaced Marc Wilson midway through the half, attempted to break his goal-scoring duck for his hometown Club, but eager Stoke supporters were forced to wait at least three months longer for that moment as the defenders effort flew harmlessly wide.
Republic of Ireland international Walters flashed an effort wide of goal following good work from Nzonzi, whilst the frontman was in the thick of the action again moments later as he forced Kelvin Davies into a good save after being freed by Ryan Shotton.
The visitors ended the half the better side, and a clever half volley from Etherington very nearly caught the Saints stopper off guard, but thankfully for him, the all dropped on to the roof of the net, rather than the back of it.
Whilst the opening minutes of the first half very nearly culminated in the Potters falling behind, the start of the second half couldn’t have been any more different as the visitors raced off the blocks and found themselves ahead thanks to Crouch.
The England international tucked away Cameron’s inviting centre with aplomb from 8-yards, to send the near 3,000 travelling supporters housed behind the goal into absolute delirium.
Their celebrations were relatively short lived however, as Begovic’s goal was finally breached by Lambert, who tucked the ball home into an empty net after the Bosnian had again thwarted Rodriguez with a superb save down to his left.
Things could have been a whole lot worse for Pulis’ side had the impressive ‘keeper not denied Lambert, whose thunderous strike looked destined to hit the back of the net, until the outstretched foot of the Bosnian diverted the ball over the bar.
Pulis introduced Cameron Jerome from the bench as he looked to breathe fresh life into the side, and it very nearly paid dividends as his movement inside the box opened up space for Robert Huth to meet Etherington’s corner, although Davies saved well to deny the German defender.
Owen’s introduction 20 minutes from time undoubtedly brought with it the biggest cheer of the day, as supporters from both Club’s took to their feet to salute the career of one of the England’s all time scoring greats.
Substitute Jason Puncheon fired a rifling effort into the side netting as both sides pushed for a late winner, but the final opportunity of the encounter fell to Owen, but he was unable to make contact with a dangerous ball into the box, which brought with it a great sense of relief for the majority of supporters inside the stadium.