SUPER-SUB Cameron Jerome smashed home a 25-yard thunderbolt to salvage a point for ten-man Stoke City as they stretched their unbeaten record to ten matches in a six-goal thriller with Southampton to round off 2012 at the Britannia Stadium.
Jerome came up with the goods once again when Tony Pulis turned to him as the Potters looked to bounce back from trailing 3-1 at half-time.
After Matthew Upson had reduced the deficit with a close range shot midway through the second half, the £4 million striker produced a contender for Goal of the Season with his stunning strike in the final minute of normal time.
It capped a remarkable fightback after City had been stunned by defensive lapses which cost them dear in the first half and then the controversial sending off of midfielder Steven Nzonzi who was shown a straight red by Mark Clattenburg.
Nzonzi lunged into a tackle with Jack Cork, but stepped over the Saints player’s outstretched leg, yet Clattenburg ruled it to be a high challenge.
Southampton made the most of City’s defensive vulnerability in the absence of Ryan Shawcross and Geoff Cameron in the first half as Rickie Lambert fired them in front before Kenwyne Jones notched his third goal in as many home matches.
Despite getting back on level terms, a comedy of errors contributed to the Saints going 3-1 in front as Jay Rodriguez scored from close range before Andy Wilkinson sliced an attempted clearance into the roof of his own net in the 36th minute.
It was one-way traffic for much of the second half, even though City went down to ten men, and as well as getting back on level terms, they had other opportunities that could have led to them snatching victory as Jerome had one effort disallowed while Peter Crouch forced a fine save out of Kelvin Davis deep into injury time.
The point not only extended City’s unbeaten run to ten matches, it also meant that they stretched their unbeaten home run to 17 games.
Pulis had handed Upson and Shotton the chance to fill the defensive vacancies caused by the one-match suspensions being served by Shawcross and Cameron, while Owen and Palacios returned to what looked a very strong bench.
In blustery conditions, City began promisingly by exerting pressure on the Southampton defence which stood up the early examination.
When the Potters won a throw-in on the right hand side, Jones flicked it on at the near post, but the Saints were able to clear without too much difficulty.
However, it was Southampton who went ahead against the run of play when City’s defence made the costly mistake of allowing Lambert to escape his marker inside the box as he applied the finishing touch to Do Prado’s deep cross.
City’s response was immediate and should have resulted in an equaliser as Nzonzi’s shot took a deflection off a Saints defender, breaking kindly for Jones with just the ‘keeper to beat but he snatched at the chance and dragged it wide.
The equaliser did, however, arrive a few minutes later and Jones made amends for his earlier miss with his third goal in as many home games.
Shotton was the architect of the opportunity with a burst into the box before sliding a pass to the former Saints player who produced the deftest of flicks with his right foot and then watched as it rolled in off the inside of the far post.
City then had the momentum and they pegged Southampton back as they tried to complete another dramatic turnaround as on Boxing Day.
But it was the Saints who regained the lead when City were punished for more lapses at the back by conceding a scrappy second goal.
Lambert was given the time and space to deliver a cross from the right and Huth, stretching to try and clear, sliced the ball onto his own bar.
It bounced down conveniently for Rodriguez to slide home the simplest of finishes with Begovic left stranded well off his line by the deflection.
Southampton sensed the opportunity to impose a stranglehold on the game as they pushed forward again as the lively Puncheon burst into the box before unleashing a fierce drive which Begovic pushed away for a corner.
Although Walters forced his way past Hooiveld to set City on a promising move forward, his eventual pass to the unmarked Etherington was overhit and forced the winger into a wide position from which his cross came to nothing.
The Potters then found themselves with a mountain to climb as Southampton stormed into a 3-1 lead nine minutes before the break when they took advantage of the vulnerability at the back in the absence of Shawcross and Cameron.
Puncheon hoisted a ball into the box which was headed on by Lambert and Wilkinson sliced it past a stranded Begovic as he came off his line.
City were shell-shocked by such a disappointing first half display, having only conceded four goals in all their previous home games in the League.
But the second half looked for a way back into the game and gained some encouragement from the pressure they exerted on the Saints.
Davis was called into action to make a save low down after Kightly had cut inside from the right and rather ambitiously tried a long range shot.
There was a lengthy delay when Huth and Wilkinson sustained nasty cuts in a clash of heads, but both were able to resume after treatment.
It was at that point Pulis made his first change of the afternoon as Jerome was sent on in place of Etherington to partner Jones up front.
Southampton really should have put the game beyond reach in the 65th minute Huth’s slip led to Rodriguez being released through the middle and although his shot was saved by Begovic’s outstretched leg, Do Prado somehow managed to sidefoot his follow up shot wide of the target with an empty net in front of him.
City celebrated that let off by pulling a goal back moments later when Upson swept home a close range shot after Jones had seen his initial goalbound effort blocked as the Saints struggled to deal with the bombardment from set-pieces.
Referee Clattenburg then incensed the players and supporters like by waving away appeals for a penalty when Hooiveld clearly handled the ball in the area after Jones had risen to flick on a deep ball into the box from Wilkinson.
Moments later, the official was at the centre of more controversy when he sent off Nzoni for what he deemed to be a high challenge when television replays clearly showed that he had stepped over Cork’s leg as he lunged for the ball.
Despite being down to ten men, City pressed hard for an equaliser and sent on Crouch in place of Kightly to bolster their firepower.
City thought they had got the equaliser when Begovic’s long kick was flicked on by Crouch and Jerome latched onto it to hook the ball over the advancing Davis, but the assistant referee’s flag was up because he was offside.
But the stadium erupted in the final minute of normal time when Jones and then Crouch flicked a long ball upfield into the path of Jerome who unleashed a 25-yard thunderbolt which flew into the back of the net off the underside of the bar.
With seven minutes of injury time added on by the officials, City went in search of a winner and Davis pulled off one great save late on.
The Potters were awarded a free kick which Whelan swung into the box where Crouch met it with a close range header which was pushed out by the ‘keeper and Fox managed to clear with no City player on hand to turn in the rebound.