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15:41 14th August 2011

Brave Potters Claim Excellent Point

STOKE CITY showed incredible character and spirit to claim their first Barclays Premier League point of the season . . . but they paid a heavy price for it with injuries to Matthew Etherington and Rory Delap in the goalless draw at the Britannia Stadium.

Etherington was taken off with what appeared to be a dislocated shoulder while Delap suffered a recurrence of a hamstring injury as the Potters were forced to defend bravely for long periods to keep out title hopefuls Chelsea in the live televised match.

Tony Pulis' side were indebted to the brilliance of man-of-the-match Asmir Begovic who pulled off a string off excellent saves, particularly in the second half.

Although the Potters had the better of the first half, their main threat came from Delap's long throw-ins and set pieces which troubled Peter Cech.

But Chelsea gained the upper hand in the second half and were left frustrated in the end as they failed to turn their pressure into a winning goal.

In the circumstances, it was an excellent point for City and means they have now kept clean sheets in each of their three competitive games this season.

Pulis was boosted by the fact that a number of fitness doubts came through fitness tests before the kick-off, one of whom was Delap who came into the starting line-up in place of Whitehead after missing the trip to Split with a hamstring problem.

However, as the game got underway it appeared that Pennant was struggling with a thigh injury and he pulled up sharply after clearing the ball upfield.

In contrast, Torres looked lively for Chelsea in the opening stages after suffering concussion while on international duty with Spain and it took a timely interception from Shawcross after the £50 million striker had wriggled his way past Woodgate.

Although City were seeing plenty of possession, it was Begovic who was the first goalkeeper forced into a save to push behind a shot from Bosingwa.

Shawcross was booked for a clumsy challenge on Torres and from the resulting free kick the Spaniard made room to try a long range shot which flew wide although Begovic appeared to have the effort covered as he moved to his right.

The first threat from Delap's long throw-in came in the twelfth minute and Cech appeared to be struggling under pressure but eventually claimed the ball.

City were awarded a free kick for a foul by Terry on Jones and when Etherington whipped the ball into the box, Huth was only fractionally off target with his header.

Etherington then exerted more pressure on the Chelsea defence with a free kick hoisted forward into the box and when Jones backheeled the ball to Pennant his cross saw Cech claiming the ball under a challenge from Walters.

Cech was then forced to dive out and punch firmly clear after Walters had broken clear down the right hand side and had drilled over a low cross.

There was a scare for the Potters on the half hour when Ramires produced an electrifying burst forward and shrugged Whelan before firing a low cross into the six yard box which flashed across goal without a Chelsea player there to get a touch.

City then had appeals for a penalty waved away when Terry blocked Walters' flick, but Delap seized upon the loose ball to send over a dangerous cross to the far post where the presence of Alex and Bosingwa enabled Chelsea to get the ball away.

Torres rounded off a lively first half display with a jinking run into the box but having beaten two players he failed to make clean contact with his shot.

There was much more of a threat from Chelsea at the start of the second half and Torres went close to scoring when he latched onto a knockdown by Malouda, but the strong presence of Woodgate and Begovic prevented him from getting in a shot.

City were forced to defend gallantly again moments later and Chelsea were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty when Lampard was sent flying under a challenge from Wilson, but referee Halsey waved away the protests of the visiting players.

The danger was not over though and Begovic had to be at his best to turn over a dipping volley from Mikel which was unleashed from 25 yards out.

There was a blow for the Potters when Etherington went down after challenging for a high ball and after lengthy treatment he was led away with what appeared to be a dislocated shoulder, forcing Pulis to bring on Whitehead in his place.

Worse was to follow for City when Delap also pulled up with a recurrence of his hamstring problem and he limped off to be replaced by Pugh.

Chelsea sensed the chance to take all three points and it required Begovic to pull a couple more excellent saves to keep them at bay.

There was some respite for the Potters when Walters broke down the left and when Jones laid the ball off to Pennant, his shot was charged down.

Another chance fell to Whelan some 25 yards out and he made room for himself to try his luck but his curling effort was comfortably saved by Cech.

Chelsea pressed hard for a winner again and Anelka went close to breaking the deadlock with a delightful chip that was pushed onto the bar by the outstretched Begovic and then Wilson managed to head it clear under pressure from Torres.

Moments later there was another let-off for the Potters when Ramires delivered the ball into the box and Kalou had a free header but directed it at Begovic.

Villas-Boas threw on Drogba, Anelka and Benayoun in a desperate attempt to grab the winner and City were forced into some last-ditch defending.

With the officials indicating there would be five minutes of injury time, there was one final moment of concern for the Potters when the visitors were awarded a free kick after Drogba went down under a challenge from Woodgate 25 yards out.

It was Drogba who stepped up to take the free kick but the City wall did its job by blocking his attempt at goal and so the game ended in stalemate.

    Data provided by Press Association


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