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19:23 30th April 2011

Stalemate By The Seaside

WHILST a fourth successive Barclays Premier League campaign may not yet be mathematically certain, the thoroughly deserved point earned by the Potters at Bloomfield Road should now undoubtedly be enough to ensure another crack at the top flight in 2011/12.

Tony Pulis' side ended a three-game week by shutting out a free-scoring Blackpool side on their own patch for the first time this season to move on to 43 points, just four short of equalling last season's final tally with three games still remaining.

The Potters will be satisfied by the outcome on the seaside as they extended their unbeaten run since Wembley to four games, though it could have been so much more had Kenwyne Jones not spurned a glorious opportunity in first half stoppage time.

The former Sunderland man, who had scored in each of his last four games, uncharacteristically failed to hit the target after doing the hard work by shrugging off a defender and rounding the goalkeeper to hand himself an almost impossible to miss chance.

Ahead of the game, Tony Pulis was forced into one change with Matthew Etherington being ruled out through injury, meaning Dean Whitehead returned to midfield at his expense following a period on the sidelines.

He occupied a central midfield berth alongside Glenn Whelan, with Rory Delap making the move to the left flank to deputise for the former West Ham winger. Jermaine Pennant continued on the right flank.

The rest of the team was as you were earlier in the week with Asmir Begovic, Andy Wilkinson, skipper Ryan Shawcross, Robert Huth and the versatile Marc Wilson making up the back five, whilst Jones and Jon Walters resumed their fruitful partnership in attack.

A party-like atmosphere from within the stand housing the travelling 2,200 Stoke supporters welcomed the players on to the pitch, and whilst the Blackpool fans were equally as noisy, you could sense an air of nervousness as victory was almost a necessity if their bid to beat the drop was to be achieved.

During the initial exchanges, the hosts displayed the same fluidity and attacking intent which has served them so well this season, though it was still the Potters who had the first real opportunities of the encounter.

A trademark Delap long throw-in had Seasiders stopper Matthew Gilks in all of a flap in the tenth minute, though he was let off the hook as the free-scoring defender Huth saw his strike cleared off the line by the evergreen Ian Evatt.

Two minutes later, Delap was once again the instigator as a powerful run down the left flank culminated in a dangerous ball being flashed across the six-yard box, unfortunately for the Potters it narrowly evaded the fast approaching Walters.

Ian Holloway's side had chances of their own as the half wore on with both captain Charlie Adam and Neal Eardley blazing over the bar from inside the 18-yard box, whilst some hesitancy from Begovic almost gifted an opportunity to Gary Taylor-Fletcher, however, Wilson was on hand to clear the danger and spare the blushes of the Bosnian.

A pretty stale opening 45 minutes appeared to be primed to end goalless! That was until stoppage time when Jones had a golden opportunity to fire the visitors into the lead.

The Trinidad and Tobago star latched onto a clever Whelan through ball, shrugged off Evatt, rounded keeper Gilks, but then somehow curled the ball wide of the left hand post with an empty net starring him straight in the face.

The Jones chance at the end of the first half seemed to open the floodgates at the start of the second as firstly Alex Baptiste saw an effort drift inches wide of Begovic's post, before Whelan let fly a thunderous 30-yard effort which forced Gilks into a superb save down to his left.

From the resulting corner, Pennant superbly picked out Jones, only for the Potters joint leading scorer to see his header blocked on the line by midfielder Keith Southern, before Adam smashed the ball away from the danger zone to give the hosts some much needed respite.

The Stoke pressure continued as Whelan cut an imposing figure in the middle of the park, almost running the show at ease. The Republic of Ireland international played a role in almost every City surge forward, but despite his and his team-mates best efforts, the hosts managed to hold firm and steady ship.

More injury problems mounted for Pulis on the hour mark as Wilkinson hobbled off with what appeared to be a knee injury. His departure paved the way for Fenton-born youngster Ryan Shotton to come on and make his Premier League bow.

The disruption to the team failed to change the pattern of the game as Stoke continued to look the more likely of the two teams to break the deadlock. Jones headed over from ten yards, whilst Huth barnstormed his way through three defenders only for his strike to be bravely blocked by a Blackpool defender.

Whelan rifled another effort goalwards only to see it shave the post ten minutes from time, before Pulis introduced on loan Villa man John Carew at the expense of the tiring Delap in an effort to grab what would have been a deserved late winner.

Walters and Whitehead both almost prodded home at the back post in stoppage time, whilst at the other end, the hosts only real effort of note saw substitute Luke Varney head straight into the palms of Begovic from eight-yards deep into stoppage time.

    Data provided by Press Association


    The Potters played out four replays to finally beat Bury in the FA Cup in 1955