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22:42 28th February 2011

Brilliant Begovic Earns A Point

STOKE CITY were forced to settle for a rare draw in their live televised match against West Bromwich Albion at the Britannia Stadium . . . but it took the brilliance of goalkeeper Asmir Begovic to ensure that they claimed a point in the end.

Begovic pulled off a string of outstanding saves to keep Albion at bay, although he could do little to prevent Arsenal loanee Carlos Vela from equalising in the closing stages after midfielder Rory Delap had headed the Potters in front shortly after half time.

The fact that City were held to only their fourth draw of their Premier League campaign season so far was a frustrating outcome, but in the circumstances they were thankful to the giant Bosnian for the fact that he denied Albion all three points.

Delap headed City ahead in the 53rd minute when he turned in a Jermaine Pennant corner at the near post, but there were few moments when Tony Pulis' side looked as though would add to their lead and that set up a nervous finish to the game.

Nevertheless, the Potters had every right to feel aggrieved that Albion got back on level terms because replays clearly showed that Vela was in an offside position when he gathered Steven Reid's first time cross and tucked it wide of Begovic.

Pulis recalled record signing Jones to his starting line-up, but opted not to name Etherington on the bench after he passed a fitness test on his back problem.

West Brom boss Hodgson sprung one or two surprises by recalling club captain Carson, while Odemwingie was relegated to the substitute's bench.

In a largely uneventful opening to the game, City's first period of sustained pressure saw them force three successive corners, one of which saw Olsson wrestling with Jones which fortunately for Albion wasn't spotted by the referee Michael Oliver.

When the third of those corners was swung over to the far post by Pugh, it was met by a firm header from Shawcross which directed straight at Carson.

The former England 'keeper was tested out again by a long throw-in by Delap, but he succeeded in getting enough on his punch to clear the danger.

Mulumbu was then booked for a foul on Jones as he broke forward from his own half and from the resulting free kick, Pennant's ball into the danger zone was met by Carew, but Carson got a firm hand on the goalbound effort to push it away.

After weathering an early storm, Albion began to look more menacing going forward and Begovic was forced to save at full stretch when Dorrans weaved his way past two defenders before firing a shot goalbound from a tight angle.

There was another scare for City moments later when Fortune cut inside from the right and struck a left foot shot that was well saved by Begovic.

In the closing stages of the half, Brunt was booked for barging into Pennant and the winger picked himself up to curl the free kick round the Albion wall only to watch it clip the top of the bar with Carson nowhere near it.

City started the second half with greater purpose and although Delap couldn't quite get his long throw-ins right, he was the one to break the deadlock.

When the Potters were awarded a corner on the left hand side, Pennant swung it into the near post and Delap's close range header punished some poor defending as Albion struggled once again to deal with the threat posed from set-pieces.

There was an opportunity moments later for City to go further in front when Walters, tussling for possession, saw the ball break kindly for him and he immediately unleashed a dipping long range drive which was only inches over the bar.

Albion then had an opportunity to draw level when Reid swung the ball into the area and a header from Scharner deflected off Shawcross but was saved by Begovic.

The Bosnian was then called upon to make another crucial save to keep out a long range effort from Brunt, but then Thomas fired a shot narrowly over the bar.

With Albion looking so threatening going forward, City needed the cushion of a second goal and so they introduced Etherington's pace in place of Carew.

It was Pennant who produced a burst forward and Brunt, having already been booked, was fortunate that the winger stayed on his feet after having his heels clipped by the Scot, but his attempted pass to Jones didn't find the striker.

Albion then made a double substitution by bringing on Odemwingie and Tchoyi for Fortune and Mulumbu, while Whelan replaced Pennant.

City were hanging on to their slender advantage, but the fact that they were defending so deeply gave encouragement to the visitors.

There were a number of anxious moments before Reid swung over a right wing cross from a deep position and Vela nipped to fire his shot past Begovic and the equaliser was allowed to stand despite the appeals of the City defenders.

Right at the death, Begovic was forced to pull off three brilliant saves to deny Albion an injury-time winner, the final one of them sprawling at the feet of Vela when he sprung the offside trap again and seemed destined to score the winner.

    Data provided by Press Association


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