STOKE CITY were made to pay the penalty at Anfield on the opening day of the 2013/14 Barclays Premier League campaign as Jonathan Walters missed a last minute spot kick to secure the Potters a point against Liverpool.
The Republic of Ireland international was handed a glorious chance of cancelling out Daniel Sturridge’s sublime first half strike after defender Daniel Agger was adjudged to have handled the ball in his own 18-yard box following a goalmouth scramble.
The forward, who bagged a brace in the last meeting between the two sides last Boxing Day, saw his effort saved by Reds debutant Simon Mignolet however, to spark wild celebrations on Merseyside, as the hosts recorded a first opening day victory in five years.
Prior to the game Hughes named defender Erik Pieters in his starting line up following his summer move from PSV Eindhoven, whilst midfielder Wilson Palacios and striker Peter Crouch were also handed starting roles.
Honduran Palacios was forced to withdraw at the last minute due to a bout of illness, meaning that Marc Wilson was called into the side as his replacement, occupying a defensive midfield role in front of Asmir Begovic, Geoff Cameron, Ryan Shawcross, Robert Huth and Pieters.
Ireland’s Glenn Whelan got the nod to feature from the off alongside Steven Nzonzi, with Walters and Matthew Etherington given the green light to start on the flanks, either side of the lone striker, and former Anfield favourite Crouch.
An electric atmosphere swept around the stadium in anticipation of the 2013/14 Premier League curtain-raiser, as the expectant Liverpool supporters and excited Potters fans counted down the minutes until kick-off.
Once the action did eventually get underway, bang on cue at 12:45, it was the visiting contingent making the majority of the noise as the Potters opened proceedings desperately seeking to make an immediate impact at one of world football’s most revered venues.
Hughes’ troops more than matched their more illustrious opponents during the initial ten minutes, and in fact should have opened the scoring when Mignolet made a meal of Etherington’s corner, leaving Huth with a gaping goal, although his rasping effort cannoned back off the bar.
Truth be told the next twenty minutes were undoubtedly Liverpool’s as they launched a barrage of attacks on Begovic’s goal as they looked to get their campaign underway with maximum points against a much more fluid Stoke side.
Firstly, Sturridge thought he had opened the scoring with a glanced header that was correctly chalked off for offside, whilst the England front-man went close with a thunderous effort from a tight angle that Begovic did superbly well to block.
Debutant Kolo Toure planted a header against the crossbar from five-yards after leaping highest to meet Steven Gerrard’s corner, moments before the lively Phillipe Coutinho manoeuvred himself enough space to drag an effort inches wide of goal.
A rare Potters surge forward almost caught the hosts off guard as Nzonzi and Pieters linked up well, although the final ball through to Walters unfortunately wasn’t quite as impressive.
Bosnian ace Begovic again displayed why he is regarded as one of the top-flights most impressive stoppers by denying Iago Aspas and Jordan Henderson, both of whom were freed through on goal by the tricky Brazilian, Coutinho.
To Stoke’s credit, they ended the half incredibly strong and will feel aggrieved not to have levelled matters before the break, with Walters bringing the best out of Belgian ‘keeper Mignolet with a long range strike that looked destined to ripple the net.
Right on the stroke of half-time Shawcross thought he had scored his first goal in over twelve months after diverting Etherington’s centre goalwards, but just as he turned to celebrate Lucas produced a crucial clearance off the line to deny the City skipper.
Coutinho continued from where he left off in the first half by driving the hosts forward at every opportunity, and had he been able to show a little more composure in front of goal, having danced his way through the middle of the pitch it would have been 2-0, and possibly game over.
As it was, the Reds continued to be frustrated by a lack of killer instinct in front of goal, and more superb keeping from Begovic, as he made a series of superb saves to thwart Brendan Rodgers’ attack minded side.
Stoke stuck to their new principles though and played some lovely stuff themselves, moving forward patiently but effectively, with Nzonzi in-particular relishing the freedom he had been given in the centre of the pitch.
On the hour mark, Hughes shuffled his pack by introducing former Liverpool stars Charlie Adam and Jermaine Pennant from the bench, with Whelan and Etherington the two to make way.
Adam, who was an unused substitute for Scotland in their narrow 3-2 loss to England during the week, went close with an audacious effort from 60-yards, that very nearly caught Mignolet napping, whilst Huth saw a close range strike blocked by the outstretched leg of Toure.
Henderson again went close to doubling the hosts advantage with a strike from 20-yards out, but Stoke looked to have been given the chance they needed to secure a point in the 90th minute when referee Martin Atkinson deliberated before pointing to the spot.
Following Begovic’s heroics throughout the game it was Mignolet who stood strong and produced the most important save of the afternoon to break the hearts of the near 3000 travelling Stokies, housed in the stand behind the Belgian’s goal.