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20:27 24th March 2012

Crouch Stunner Earns Potters A Point

PETER CROUCH'S stunning volley edged Stoke City closer to the magical 40-point mark as they put a dent in Manchester City's title hopes in a Britannia Stadium thriller for the television cameras.

The England striker produced a contender for goal of the season with his spectacular finish to put the Potters in front early in the second half, only for them to be pegged back by the man who broke their FA Cup Final hearts, Yaya Toure, at Wembley last season.

Crouch fired home his twelfth goal of the season, one of the best-ever finishes seen at the Britannia Stadium in the 59th minute, but Yaya Toure hit back 17 minutes later to earn Roberto Mancini's side a hard-earned point to lift them back to the top of the table.

While there was no stopping the volley from City's record signing, Yaya Toure's thunderbolt took a deflection off Ryan Shawcross before flying past Asmir Begovic.

The draw moved City onto 38 points and lifted them up to twelfth place, while it elevated Mancini's men back to the top of the Premier League on goal difference.

There were other chances for the Potters to take all three points as they hit the Manchester City on the counter attack on occasions, but the result was still an excellent one coming off the back of the point which was earned at Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday.

Tony Pulis was boosted by the return to full fitness of Etherington, who had recovered from a knock sustained in the FA Cup quarter final, but that prompted him to switch Wednesday's goalscorer Jerome to the right hand side.

City's manager also brought back Whelan and Whitehead into the centre of midfield at the expense of Diao and Palacios, while the visitors had a number of notable absentees in skipper Kompany, Lescott and striker Aguero.

The Potters made the brighter start, but Crouch's immediate flick on carried too much weight for Walters to latch onto it and England goalkeeper Hart was alert to the threat as he raced off his line to gather the ball comfortably.

After that promising start, City were forced to show plenty of discipline as Mancini's side enjoyed plenty of possession, but a misdirected clearance by Hart gave them some respite as they launched a raid down the left hand side.

Etherington fed the ball into Walters who outpaced his marker to send over a low cross from the left hand edge of the box which was gathered by the diving Hart.

City then carved out another opening when Crouch flicked on a ball whipped into the box by Wilson, but Jerome with his back to goal tried to twist and make contact on the volley, but failed with that attempt as the ball flew wide.

Although Mancini's side frustrated the Potters by holding onto the ball for long periods, they posed little threat in the final third of the pitch and that sequence of play ended with an ambitious long range shot from Silva which flew wide.

Pulis made a tactical switch as Jerome moved up alongside Crouch and Walters took up a position wide on the right, and it immediately proved to be effective as the Potters gained a foothold in the game after defending for a long period.

Following some neat work from Whelan, his Republic of Ireland team-mate turned over a cross from the right which Jerome instinctively met with his head at the near post, but he made too clean a contact with his attempt and it was off target.

There was a lengthy delay as Silva received treatment for a head injury after a clash with Whitehead, but the visitors could not make the most of the free kick as Shawcross read the situation well to clear up field to Jerome.

Stoke were given the opportunity to exert some more pressure when they were awarded a free kick on the right hand side which Whelan delivered into the box and when it broke for Etherington, his shot was a tame one from a good position.

Only a goal-line clearance from Zabaleta prevented the Potters from going in front just before the interval when Shawcross got the faintest of touches to a corner swung to the near post by Etherington, but the Argentinian hooked it away.

Mancini's side were quicker out of the blocks at the start of the second half and had an immediate opportunity to get their noses in front as Barry curled the ball into the path of Dzeko, but Begovic was off his line to block his shot.

The Potters hit back when they earned a corner on the left hand side which Whelan eventually delivered to the far post where Jerome headed it back across goal, but Walters and Shawcross appeared to get in each other's way as they tried to apply the finishing touch with Hart scrambling anxiously across his goal-line.

Pulis then made his first change of the night when he introduced Pennant in place of Jerome which meant Walters moving back up alongside Crouch.

Moments later, the stadium erupted when Crouch produced a moment of magic to put the Potters in front with a candidate for goal of the season.

Although the England striker initially misdirected his header from a long ball forward, he quickly received it back and flicked it up waist high before sending a stunning 20-yard volley looping over the diving Hart and into the far corner.

Mancini responded to that setback by immediately sending on Johnson in place of Silva to give his side more width on the right side.

The Potters found themselves pinned back in their own half for a period as the visitors pressed for an equaliser to revive their title hopes, but Begovic was in the right place at the right time on a couple of occasions when they threatened.

It was very much a case of all out attack from the visitors when Tevez was introduced in place of Barry, as he joined a four-man frontline.

But that meant there were opportunities for Stoke to catch them on the break and Walters made the most of that fact when he collected a pass from Etherington and broke forward, but his eventual shot curled wide of the target.

Mancini's gamble then paid off when his side got themselves back on level terms when Yaya Toure tried his luck from fully 30 yards out and his thunderous effort glanced off Shawcross' head, meaning Begovic could not keep it out.

It was clear following that equaliser there would be long periods in the closing stages where the Potters would haveto defend in numbers, but there were also moments when they were able to catch their opponents on the break.

Palacios was sent on in place of Etherington to bolster the middle of the park and he was the one who went closest to a winner.

After Pennant had made good headway down the right, Whitehead opted to square the ball to Palacios 20 yards out and his curling shot had Hart diving anxiously to his left and he was relieved to see it clear the bar by inches.

There was a scare for the Potters when Yaya Toure found the space to try his luck from long range again but Begovic was equal to it on this occasion.

But although there were one or two moments when Stoke threatened as the game went into five minutes of added time, the game ended in a draw.

    Data provided by Press Association


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