JONATHAN WALTERS’ late penalty secured ten-man Stoke a thoroughly deserved point from an action packed encounter against Norwich City on Saturday afternoon.
The Potters looked to be on course for an undeserved defeat following Bradley Johnson’s second half header, however the Republic of Ireland international superbly dispatched a 72nd minute penalty to build upon last weekend’s triumph over Arsenal.
It could have been so much more for Mark Hughes’ side however, with both Peter Crouch and Austrian international Marko Arnautovic guilty of spurning glorious opportunities to break the deadlock during a dominant opening 45 minutes.
Those missed chances looked set to come back and haunt the visitors when Johnson stole a march upon the Stoke defenders by nodding home the opener, although it was the Potters who would have the final say courtesy of Walters.
The afternoon ultimately ended in disappointment for the former Ipswich Town man though, when referee Andre Marriner showed him a straight red card for an apparent late challenge on Canaries midfielder Alex Tettey.
Hughes was handed a major pre-match boost with the news that both Marko Arnautovic and Peter Odemwingie had overcome late fitness tests to take their places within the starting eleven.
The Nigerian international came into the side as a straight replacement for Charlie Adam, who sat out the first of a three-match ban following the FA’s decision to retrospectively hand him a suspension earlier in the week.
The Potters ambitions of recording back-to-back victories for only the second time this term should have been significantly aided during the opening ten minutes as several opportunities to break the deadlock came their way.
Firstly, the tenacious Glenn Whelan hassled and harried Martin Olsson into making a mistake inside his own half which paved the way for Crouch to surge through on goal, but disappointingly his effort was tame.
Moments later a superbly worked move down the left flank culminated in Erik Pieters picking Arnautovic out with a sublime ball across the penalty box, the Austrian neatly controlled, but sadly hammered over when he really should have hit the target.
Norwich appeared to be rocked by the Potters’ impressive early showing, and they continued to struggle as Geoff Cameron very nearly picked Crouch out with a delightful angled punt forward into the hosts’ danger area.
The visitors’ momentum continued to gather pace as the game hit the quarter-hour mark with Walters being presented with his first sight at goal courtesy of Arnautovic, but yet again his strike lacked the required accuracy and purpose to trouble John Ruddy.
The home supporters were beginning to grow restless as their side failed to have any impact on the game, although that could have changed midway through the half when Olsson let rip a thunderous effort from 35-yards which thankfully dipped just over the bar.
The Swede’s audacious strike lifted the spirits of the fans and his teammates alike, and they gradually began to have a greater say on proceedings with Wes Hoolahan proving to be the real creative spark amongst the Canaries ranks.
The Republic of Ireland international produced a moment of magic to feed the ball through to Robert Snodgrass, who in turn forced Bosnian number one Begovic into a superb flying save down to his right.
At the other end Odemwingie earned his side a free-kick right on the edge of the 18-yard box with a neat piece of skill, although Arnautovic’s effort from the set-piece wasn’t quite as impressive as his teammate’s trickery.
The final half opportunity of the half fell to the home side in stoppage time when the impressively named Ricky Van Wolfswinkel flicked the ball through to Hoolahan, he took one touch and stung the fingertips of Begovic from 25-yards.
The opening exchanges heralded more of the same with both sides pushing forward at every opportunity in a bid to gain the upper hand and it was the home side who almost grabbed the opener on 53 minutes when Hoolahan’s long-range drive slipped through the palms of Begovic, but the ‘keeper was able to scrabble back to his line to push the ball behind for a corner.
However, the home side didn’t have to wait much longer to break the deadlock as moments later Snodgrass dusted himself down after being brought down near the corner flag and whipped in a scrumptious delivery which, after Bradley Johnson had peeled away from Ryan Shawcross, he headed in from six yards.
Norwich continued on the front foot after taking the lead and Begovic had to be at his best seconds before the hour mark as he pushed Nathan Redmond’s effort from the edge-of-the-area away to safety.
Hughes opted to bring on striker John Guidetti midway through the second period and it proved to be a master-stroke as it was the Swedish international who won the Potters a penalty after being fouled inside the area by Sebastien Bassong.
Walters, who tucked away a penalty against Arsenal last weekend, did likewise this time around as he fired superbly into the top right-hand corner with Ruddy rooted to his line.
Walters’ moment of glory though was short lived as the Republic of Ireland striker was sent off in the 78th minute when his foot made contact with the leg of Alex Tettey and referee Andre Marriner adjudged that it was worthy of a straight red card.
Guidetti was substituted as a result, but to his credit the young forward fully understood the situation and gracefully left the field for Stephen Ireland as an expected onslaught from Norwich was about to arrive.
Chris Hughton threw on forwards Gary Hooper and Johan Elmander and the former blazed well over moments after his introduction after good approach play, before Johnson fired wide of Begovic’s left-hand post when in truth he should have done better.
The Canaries tried to fashion a winner in the five minutes of additional time but their only chance fell to Johnson who, after the ball had been pulled back to the midfielder on the edge-of-the-area, saw his effort trickle wide of the post and ensured Stoke took a point home to the Potteries.