MATTHEW ETHERINGTON'S sixth goal of the campaign wasn't enough to secure ten-man Stoke City a point against Champions League hopefuls Spurs at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday... as Niko Kranjcar struck a late winner for Harry Redknapp's side.
Following a somewhat lethargic opening 45 minutes, the second half exploded into action as Eidur Gudjohnsen fired the visitors ahead just 30 seconds after the interval, before Dean Whitehead was dismissed by referee Mike Dean three minutes later for an innocuous looking challenge on Luka Modric.
The Potters had to stand firm to soak up some heavy Spurs' pressure, but managed to pull themselves back into the game on the hour mark when Etherington calmly converted from the penalty spot, after David Kitson had been dragged to the ground by Benoit Assou-Ekotto.
Ricardo Fuller then agonisingly spurned a glorious opportunity to turn the game on its head as he blazed over from six-yards, before the Londoners ensured all three points would be theirs with little over ten minutes remaining as Croatian international Kranjcar lashed home after Essou-Akotto teed him up.
Ahead of the game, Tony Pulis was forced to do without England international Ryan Shawcross, who missed out with a niggling ankle injury, having completed his three match ban. Salif Diao also remained sidelined through injury meaning Whitehead and Glenn Whelan were partnered at the heart of the side.
Occupying the flanks were Rory Delap and former Spurs star Etherington, whilst the City boss partnered leading goalscorer Fuller with Kitson, who was making his first league start since the 2-0 reverse against Manchester United back in September.
Harry Redknapp had injury problems of his own with Jermain Defoe joining the likes of Aaron Lennon, Tom Huddlestone and Ledley King on the treatment table during the week, meaning he had just three fit strikers available for the clash.
The impressive form of Roman Pavlyuchenko earned him a start in attack alongside giant England striker Peter Crouch, whilst on loan Monaco man Gudjohnsen, who would make his mark on the game, had to settle for a place amongst the substitutes.
Despite being a pretty quiet first half, it was the Potters who always looked the more likely to find a breakthrough. Skipper Abdoulaye Faye nodded wide of goal from 4-yards after latching onto a neat Kitson flick on, whilst Brazilian keeper Heurelho Gomes had to be alert to deal with Kitson's powerful ball across goal shortly after.
Danny Higginbotham was next to test the resolve of Spurs' backline midway through the half, but despite rising highest to meet Delap's in-swinging ball, the former Sunderland man glanced the ball just wide of the post, with Fuller desperately trying to divert the ball back towards goal.
The Jamaican international was again at the heart of the action in the Potters' next surge forward, and really after dispossessing Sebastien Bassong, he should have done better.
The visitors' defender wasted too much time on the ball allowing Fuller to nip in and steal it from him, but with Etherington crying out for the ball unmarked to his left, he took aim and fired straight at Gomes from 15-yards.
Redknapp was then handed a blow as Pavlyuchenko pulled up with what appeared to have been a thigh injury in the 36th minute, meaning he had to be replaced Gudjohnsen. And it was he who would have a major say on the proceedings straight after the restart.
The former Barcelona man linked up intelligently with Crouch to calve open the City backline, and then after holding off the challenge of Faye, he exquisitely fired the ball into the roof of the net from eight-yards to send the travelling 3,000 supporters into delirium.
One could have been two a minute later as the Iceland international freed Kranjcar down the right flank, but his ball into the mix evaded both Crouch and Younes Kaboul, who flung themselves at the ball in a desperate attempt to divert it into the back of the net.
City's task in getting themselves back into the encounter suffered a catastrophic blow in the 49th minute when Whitehead was controversially awarded his second booking of the afternoon after a coming together with Modric in the centre circle.
Germany international Robert Huth and Faye had to be at their best to tame the visitors in the aftermath of the incident as they continuously surged forward in hope of doubling their advantage. However, for all of their territorial advantage it was the hosts who pulled themselves back into the game just after the hour mark from the penalty spot thanks to Etherington, who sent Gomes the wrong way.
The goal breathed fresh life into Pulis' side, who should have been ahead ten minutes later when Fuller smashed the ball high and wide from five-yards after Higginbotham had squared the ball straight into his path, after nipping in front of Michael Dawson.
City were made to pay for the miss as Kranjcar made no mistake in firing the visitors back in front in the 77th minute after Gudjohnsen had cleverly dummied Assou-Ekotto's ball, allowing the Croat to steam in and smash the ball beyond Denmark star Thomas Sorensen.
Still, the Potters failed to lie down and succumb to defeat as Fuller failed to take advantage of a clear sight at goal, before substitute Mamady Sidibe agonisingly slipped to the floor just as he looked set to level the scoreline in stoppage time after reading Bassong's header back to Gomes.