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23:49 21st June 2012

Unbeaten start continues

STOKE CITY made it three draws from as many Barclays Premier League matches as they hit back from going behind on two occasions at Wigan Athletic.

In an entertaining, end-to-end encounter in the DW Stadium sunshine, the Potters made the worst possible start to both halves, but goals from strike-pair Jon Walters and Peter Crouch ensured that they remained unbeaten in the Premier League.

Both first half goals came from the penalty spot and both were the result of handling offences as Shaun Maloney put Wigan in front in the early stages from the spot before Walters slotted his spot kick past Ali Al Habsi five minutes before the break.

Wigan went back in front four minutes after half-time through Franco Di Santo, but Crouch headed home a Cameron Jerome cross to level it up at two apiece.

City had their chances to win the game, particularly deadline day signing Charlie Adam, whose late free kick was brilliantly saved by the diving Al Habsi.

It was the introduction of Adam in the first half and then Jerome midway through the second period which played a big part in City getting back into the game.

With Pulis including Whelan, Whitehead and Cameron in his starting line-up, it was clear that he was going to try and stifle the threat posed by Wigan’s midfield.

It was clear, however, from the start that Whitehead had been detailed to deal with the danger posed by Beausejour down the left hand side, as he had done so effectively when the Latics recorded a 2-0 win at the backend of last season.

Wigan had plenty of possession in the opening exchanges and one occasion Beausejour was set free by Figueroa, but his low cross was cleared by Huth.

That bright opening by the home side was rewarded in the sixth minute with the opening goal of the game when the City defence was stretched by a burst forward by Maloney which led to a first time shot at goal from McCarthy from the edge of the box.

The attempt at goal was blocked by Huth, but referee Atkinson pointed immediately to the spot having ruled that the defender had used his arm.

Maloney was handed the responsibility of taking the spot kick and calmly sent Begovic the wrong way to put the Potters firmly on the backfoot.

City continued to look uneasy as Wigan pushed hard to extend their lead and there was a further scare when Di Santo’s cross from the left found Boyce ghosting in at the far post. His attempt at goal fell to Kone who was crowded out by Shawcross and Huth.

Chances were few and far between for the Potters although Cameron found the space to fire a long range effort only inches past Al Habsi’s left hand post.

When Walters was given the freedom to venture forward, he lacked support in attack and eventually lost possession when he struggled to make much headway.

The Latics suffered a major setback midway through the half when Beausejour was unable to continue after treatment and was replaced by Jones.

With Wilkinson struggling with what appeared to be concussion, Pulis took the chance to introduce Adam for his debut with Cameron moving to right back.

It had the effect of lifting the team as the deadline day signing’s first pass set City on an attack which led to Whitehead being brought down on the edge of the box by Figueroa; referee Atkinson waving away appeals for a penalty from the Potters.

Although Adam’s resulting free kick was not well-struck, it led to a frantic scramble in the Wigan box before they eventually scrambled it away.

But City kept up the pressure on the home side and were rewarded with being a chance to score from the spot themselves in the 33rd minute.

The hapless Figueroa was adjudged to have handled the ball as Crouch tried to flick the ball past him in the box and referee Atkinson pointed to the spot.

Like Maloney earlier, Walters chose placement rather than power as he slotted the ball to Al Habsi’s left to lock the game up at one apiece.

The momentum was clearly with the Potters at this stage and they went close to going in front when Wilson won possession some 30 yards out and tried a long range effort which took a deflection off McCarthy and clipped the top of the bar.

From the resulting corner, Wilson should have put City in front, but he held his head in his hands after sending his close range header over the bar after Whelan’s delivery to the near post had found the defender unmarked six yards out.

Having battled their way back into the match in the closing stages of the first half, City then made the worst possible start after the break.

As Wigan caught the Potters on the counter attack, Kone burst past Wilson and into the box where he composed himself to find Di Santo whose well-placed shot was well beyond the reach of Begovic diving low to his right hand side.

There was encouragement for City supporters in the way that the side responded to that blow as they created a couple of chances to draw level, but Crouch was offside as he rose to meet a free kick and then Cameron couldn’t get sufficient power behind his first time shot after he had advanced into the box to get on the end of Kightly’s cross.

With the Potters looking to commit numbers forward, there was a danger that they would be caught short at the back and Kone took advantage with his pace to fly past two challenges before attempting to pull the ball back to Maloney.

Fortunately, on that occasion, City managed to get the ball away but there was more concern when Di Santo wriggled past his marker to fire wide.

However, the pendulum began to swing City’s way again as Kightly was presented with a good opportunity as Wigan were guilty of giving the ball away, but the former Wolves man’s shot wasn’t powerful enough to test Al Habsi.

With time running out for the Potters, Pulis decided to introduce Jerome in place of Kightly, meaning that Walters moved out wide.

And the substitute had an immediate impact as he featured in the move which saw Walters lift a cross over to the far post where Crouch rose above his marker to send a firm header across Al Habsi and in at the far post to draw City level for the second time in the game.

Jerome then made his presence felt by bursting through the middle and forcing a one-handed save out Al Habsi  and the Wigan defence managed to block Crouch’s follow-up when a third goal for the Potters seemed on the cards.

Al Habsi then produced a remarkable reflex save to prevent Adam capping his debut with what could have been the winner when his free kick from 25 yards took a wicked deflection to wrong foot him, but he recovered to push it away.
    Data provided by Press Association


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