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20:05 24th September 2011

Crouch Header Earns Elusive Point

PETER CROUCH'S first goal in a Stoke City shirt gave them their first Barclays Premier League point against champions Manchester United at the seventh attempt . . . as they claimed a well-deserved share of the spoils in a pulsating game at the Britannia Stadium.

The £10 million Club record signing headed home a 52nd minute equaliser in a storming second half fightback after they had fallen behind to a stunning solo goal from Nani.

The excellent point continued City's impressive start to the season which has seen them lose only one of their first twelve matches and it halted United's flying start.

The outcome could have been even better for the Potters but for the brilliance of Spanish 'keeper David de Gea at times, while Crouch went close on a number of occasions to add to his first goal as the United defence struggled at times to deal with his aerial threat.

United's £18 million capture from Atletico Madrid made outstanding saves to deny Andy Wilkinson, Jon Walters and Marc Wilson as City pressed hard for an equaliser.

Though Sir Alex Ferguson's Premier League leaders looked threatening at times after Nani had burst through to score in the 26th minute, City had some great chances to make it three points, particularly when they were roared on by the fans after Crouch's equaliser.

The point meant that Tony Pulis, desperate to get a good result against United after six defeats, could at long last enjoy his post-match drink with Ferguson.

The big surprise when the teams were announced was the absence of Rooney from the United line-up after he had sustained a hamstring injury in training, while Pulis opted to include Wilkinson at right back and rest Huth who had played in all of City's games up to this point.

There was a further blow for the champions when Evans picked up an injury in the warm-up and had to be replaced by Valencia, which meant Jones slotted in alongside Ferdinand.

It wasn't long before de Gea was put to the test for the first time by one of Delap's long throws launched into the box and the £18 million 'keeper flapped at it unconvincingly.

There was an immediate scare when Hernandez burst clear onto a clearance from Jones and the little Mexican went down under a challenge from Woodgate and collided with Begovic.

Replays showed that Woodgate had got a foot on the ball to justify referee Walton's decision not to award a penalty, but for Hernandez it was the end of his evening.

Although he limped on after receiving treatment, he eventually had to be replaced by Owen and there was more concern for United when both Evra and Jones picked up knocks.

Another Delap throw-in launched into the box caused more problems for the United defence and was deflected behind for a corner when Crouch got up to meet it at the near post.

From the resulting corner, City should have gone in front as Etherington delivered it deep to the far post from the right hand side where Crouch rose to head it fractionally wide.

Although the champions were having to soak up a considerably amount of pressure, they had their moments at the other end and Berbatov headed wide from an Anderson corner.

It was United who eventually went in front with an outstanding individual goal from Nani in the 26th minute as he played one-two with Fletcher, sidestepped Woodgate and planted a low left foot shot beyond the reach of the helpless Begovic from 15 yards out.

But the Potters were desperately unlucky not to equalise straight away when Wilkinson stormed into the box and unleashed a ferocious drive palmed away one-handed by de Gea.

Wilkinson's determined work then made some room for Delap to stride forward and try his luck with a long range drive which drifted wide of de Gea's right hand post.

United were then indebted to their 'keeper again in preserving their lead as he dived low to his right to keep out a fierce drive from Walters after he had latched onto Crouch's flick.

The Potters kept pressing for an equaliser and it was another set piece which caused United more concern as Woodgate rose at the near post to head Pennant's cross over the bar.

The final action of the half saw Walters cutting in from the left to send over a cross to the far post which skidded off the surface with Crouch and Pennant rushing in to get a touch.

City began the second half with renewed purpose and United were forced to soak up pressure although at the other end Nani had a shot from the edge of the box blocked.

But the promising start paid off seven minutes after the break and it was perhaps not surprising that it came from a set-piece as Crouch gleefully headed home his first goal for the club.

The Potters were awarded a corner on the right hand side which Etherington swung into the middle where the club's record signing climbed above his marker to head past de Gea.

The whole stadium erupted to acclaim his first goal, but moments later they were nearly celebrating a second when he was denied by a close range save from United's 'keeper.

A deep cross to the far post from Pennant found Crouch getting goal side of Ferdinand and when he attempted to lift the ball into the net, it was deflected wide off de Gea's shoulder.

With the ground buzzing, it was end-to-end stuff and Begovic had to be alert on one occasion to push out a dangerous cross from Berbatov and then he showed some clean handling to claim a low shot from Young when he had weaved his way into the box.

At the other end, Pennant found the space to burst forward, but after exchanging passes with Walters, his cross looking for Crouch was overhit and bounced to safety.

City were then awarded a free kick 20 yards out after a foul on Crouch and it was Wilson who unleashed a thunderbolt which was straight at de Gea who punched it away although he clearly knew very little about it such was the ferocity of the shot.

United then made their final two changes by throwing on Giggs and Welbeck in place of Young and Berbatov and there were some worrying moments for the home defence.

On one occasion, it took a vital interception from Shawcross to cut out a dangerous low cross from Welbeck with Owen waiting to pounce on it on the edge of the six yard box.

As the game moved into its closing stages, Crouch had another two opportunities at the far post, firstly when he rose above Ferdinand to head wide of the target and then when he chested another deep cross past Valencia before dragging his close range shot wide of the near post.

With four minutes of injury time signalled, United almost snatched a late goal when Nani's brilliance carved out an opening and Giggs somehow volleyed wide at the far post, but City held on and the supporters celebrated at the final whistle as if they had won the match.

    Data provided by Press Association


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