STOKE CITY had little to show for a spirited performance in the face of extreme pressure as they slipped to a 2-0 defeat at champions Chelsea . . . but they will reflect on moments which could have made the outcome so different.
Tony Pulis' side were only trailing by one goal when they went desperately close to hauling themselves level midway through the second half as substitute Glenn Whelan saw a thunderous drive crash against the bar and bounce out.
City had fallen behind to a 32nd minute goal from Frenchman Florent Malouda and fellow striker Didier Drogba sealed the triumph for the leaders when he calmly tucked away a 77th minute penalty, Chelsea's second of the game.
The Potters' brave performance was epitomised by the excellent penalty save which Thomas Sortensen pulled off in the early stages as he dived low to his left to keep out a rather tame spot kick from England midfielder Frank Lampard.
With Andy Wilkinson drafted in to bolster City's defensive resources, they quickly found themselves soaking wave upon wave of Chelsea attacks.
The first spot kick was awarded in the ninth minute when Ryan Shawcross upended Malouda in the box, but Sorensen, who had an unhappy time on his last visit to Stamford Bridge when he dislocated his elbow, came to the rescue in this instance.
Sorensen knew he was in for a busy afternoon and that was illustrated again moments later when, from a Chelsea free kick, Drogba unleashed a blistering drive which the Danish international managed to push away to safety.
City were encouraged by the way they had weathered the initial storm from Chelsea and Kenwyne Jones produced some threatening moments as he battled up front on his own, having returned to action following his ankle injury.
But the pressure began to build again and Ashley Cole was causing particular problems with his raids down the left hand side and on one occasion former Chelsea man Robert Huth had to come across to halt the England full back in full flight.
The champions eventually broke the deadlock in the 32nd minute when John Terry dispossessed Jones and burst forward before delivering a pass into the path of Malouda who finished clinically past the advancing Sorensen.
There was more concern for the Potters when Jones appeared to be struggling with a knock and Matthew Etherington pulled up with a strain.
But the main focus was on their defence as Chelsea continued to dominate the possession and Sorensen had to be smart in coming off his line to pip Nicolas Anelka to a through ball from Michael Essien in the closing stages of the first half.
City started the second half brightly and there was an anxious moment in the Chelsea defence when Rory Delap's long throw was flicked on by Huth, but it flashed across the face of goal, much to the relief of 'keeper Peter Cech.
But Chelsea strung together an excellent move that ended with Anelka sending over a cross from the left and Drogba seemed certain to score, but he planted his close range header straight at a relieved Sorensen.
Despite the injury concerns surrounding Jones and Etherington, they continued on and the first change saw Whelan replace Dean Whitehead.
And Republic of Ireland international Whelan wasted no time in making an impression as he burst through the middle to unleash an explosive drive in the 68th minute that canoned against the underside of the bar but bounced out to safety.
With Chelsea only one goal in front, they began to look a little nervy especially when Ricardo Fuller announced his arrival as a replacement for Jones with a weaving run past Alex only for Essien to spot the danger and halt him from getting into a shooting position.
Any nerves that the home side had going into the closing stages were eased when they were awarded a second penalty as Sorensen rushed off his line to bring down Anelka as he was bearing down on goal in another raid by the League leaders.
Drogba showed Lampard how it should be done by sending the Potters 'keeper the wrong way and that ensured Chelsea could cruise through the final minutes to their third victory in as many games at the start of their title defence.
City are still looking for their first points of the new season after three games, but they will take a lot of encouragement from the way they performed in such difficult circumstances against a rampant Chelsea side.