STOKE CITY ended Blackburn's hopes of a successive fifth successive home victory at Ewood Park on Saturday... but it could have been so much more for Tony Pulis' side.
The Potters spurned a number of glorious opportunities to pick up their second away victory of the campaign with Dean Whitehead and James Beattie both failing to find the back of the net from close range.
The hosts also had chances of their own and almost snatched the victory deep into stoppage time when Chris Samba headed just wide of Thomas Sorensen's left hand post. The result means the Potters retain their spot in ninth place, level on points with both Sunderland and Liverpool.
Pulis sprung a surprise ahead of the game by opting to put skipper Abdoulaye Faye on the bench after returning from suspension, meaning Andy Wilkinson retained his spot in the starting eleven after his man- of-the-match display against Portsmouth last weekend.
The City boss made two changes to the starting eleven with Liam Lawrence coming in to replace Rory Delap on the right hand side of midfield, whilst James Beattie missed out on a start against his former club with Pulis deciding to thrust Mamady Sidibe alongside Ricardo Fuller up front for his first league start of the campaign.
The hosts also made changes to their starting line-up with Gael Givet coming in at right back after overcoming a thigh injury, whilst Australian international Brett Emerton passed a late fitness test to return to the starting line up at the expense of Jason Roberts. Young French star Steven Nzonzi regained his place from Vince Grella in the heart of midfield to partner former City loanee Keith Andrews.
Whitehead and Fuller kicked off proceedings bang on time and it was the Potters who looked by far the brighter team during the opening exchanges. However, the in-form David Dunn was first to create a meaningful opportunity when he played a delightful ball over the top of the Potters' backline to Franco Di Santo, but his effort was brilliantly saved by Thomas Sorensen.
A rare surge forward from giant Rovers defender Christopher Samba resulted in an effort being fired well over the crossbar, before an excellent counter attack from City could have led to Sidibe opening the scoring for the Potters. Fuller and Matthew Etherington combined well down the left flank before the ball was put into the path of Sidibe eight-yards out, but rather than shoot he opted to put the ball back across goal where Whitehead saw his shot well-saved by Paul Robinson.
A minute later, City carved the Blackburn defence open once again, and just like before it was Fuller who was the catalyst. The Jamaican international played the ball intelligently through to Whitehead who burst through on goal and fired his effort straight at Robinson, with both Sidibe and Lawrence crying out for the ball inside the six-yard box.
Rovers almost made the Potters pay for their missed opportunities in the 25th minute when Di Santo rose unchallenged to meet Dunn's corner inside the six-yard box, but the on-loan Chelsea man glanced the ball wide of goal to let City off the hook.
Assistant boss Neil McDonald was then forced into an early change as Dunn had to come off with what appeared to be a slight hamstring strain. Jason Roberts, who scored in the corresponding fixture last season, was introduced as his replacement.
After Whitehead was cautioned for a late challenge on El-Hadji Diouf in the 37th minute, meaning he will miss the trip to Arsenal, Lawrence very nearly fired City into a half-time lead from close range. However, after latching onto Sidibe's ball his stinging effort from 7-yards was brilliantly saved by Robinson.
During the interval the hosts decided to freshen things up by replacing former Potter Andrews with Vince Grella, whilst just ten minutes into the second period Pulis was forced into a change of his own after Shawcross pulled up with a knock meaning Faye came on as his direct replacement.
Within a minute of the change the Potters could have broken the deadlock. A neat one two between Whitehead and Wilkinson resulted in the latter bursting clear through on goal only to slice the ball into the side netting from 10-yards.
At the other end, Sorensen had to be alert to deny Emerton with an acrobatic effort before Nzanzi crashed the ball against the post from 15-yards after City failed to clear their lines following Emerton's corner.
City soon continued to look like the team more likely to find the back of the net and when Fuller brilliantly danced through the Rovers backline and drilled the ball across goal it should have been 1-0, but Whitehead failed to make a proper connection with the ball and it span off of his foot and glanced across goal.
Both sides made changes midway through the second half in an attempt to secure all three points. The hosts brought on Morten Gamst Pedersen at the expense of Diouf, whilst Pulis introduced Beattie with a
tired-looking Sidibe making way for the former England man.
City's supporters hearts were in their mouths in the 75th minute when Emerton launched a thunderous effort goalwards from 25-yards, but fortunately for the visitors it drifted inches wide of the right hand post with Sorensen appearing to have been well beaten.
It was then City who went agonisingly close again moments later when Fuller found Beattie inside the six-yard box, but with the goal at his mercy he lofted the ball over the bar.
An entertaining match continued to look like one side would snatch all three points and had it not been for an outstanding intervention from Whitehead inside his own penalty area, then Emerton would almost certainly have found the back of the net after Pedersen headed the ball across the six-yard box.
Pulis made his final throw of the dice in the 81st minute by bringing Turkey captain Tuncay on with Fuller making way, but a goal never materialised, and in fact it was the hosts who almost stole all three points in injury time when Samba headed just wide.