PETER CROUCH’S eighth goal of the campaign was enough to extend the side’s unbeaten run to three games on Wednesday night as the Potters played out a 1-1 draw with Swansea City at the Britannia Stadium.
The England international, who has now netted four goals in his last three home fixtures versus the South Wales outfit, reacted quickest to slam home the opener on the quarter hour mark after Peter Odemwingie’s effort had crashed back off the woodwork.
Marko Arnautovic went agonisingly close to doubling the advantage soon after with a rasping strike that was palmed over the bar by Dutch international ‘keeper Michel Vorm.
However, the second half heralded a much brighter showing from the visitors and they deservedly levelled through Chico Flores, before leading scorer Wilfried Bony brought out the best of both Asmir Begovic and Ryan Shawcross late on after being freed inside the penalty area.
Mark Hughes’ side will have undoubtedly felt disappointed not to have been awarded a late spot kick though, with referee Jonathan Moss waving away two worthy shouts from the home side with Crouch being felled and then Ben Davies appearing to have handled the ball.
Manager Mark Hughes made two changes to his starting eleven ahead of kick-off with Austrian international Arnautovic and Republic of Ireland ace Marc Wilson returning to the side.
The pair, who were absent for the 2-2 draw with Southampton at the weekend, overcame late fitness tests after injury and illness side-lined them last time out.
Arnautovic was restored to the left hand side of midfield at the expense of Oussama Assaidi, whilst Marc Muniesa’s spot in central defence went back to Wilson, who had managed to shrug off a chest infection.
Swansea made two changes themselves with Jonathan de Guzman and Marvin Emnes dropping to the bench, despite their heroics in the 3-0 triumph against local rivals Cardiff City four days earlier.
Spanish youngster Jose Canas and Pablo Hernandez were the two benefiters of the double change made by interim boss Garry Monk.
The treacherous conditions, which had at one stage thrown doubt over the fixture, thankfully eased off by the time kick-off came around, although that was still put back 15 minutes due to traffic issues.
Once the match had eventually got underway it was the visitors who had acclimatised to the conditions the better of the two sides.
Wilfiried Bony looked every bit the predator that had fired in seven goals in his last eight games, proving to be the real spark in the visitors eleven.
The Ivory Coast international had twice narrowly failed to make contact with deep Hernandez centres, before he lashed inches over from 8-yards following another superb delivery from the Spaniard.
The home team gradually found a rhythm and began to exert themselves upon their opponents in the same way they did against Manchester United and Southampton in recent weeks.
Charlie Adam fizzed a dangerous ball across goal after finding himself well placed on the right, before Peter Odemwingie will feel aggrieved not to have done better after finding space for himself inside the penalty box.
It wasn’t too long in waiting for the opening goal of the night however, as Crouch reacted fastest to fire home his eight of the campaign from 15-yards, after Odemwingie’s well struck effort fell kindly into his path via the post.
Just two minutes later a storming run through the middle of the pitch from Arnautovic very nearly culminated in a second goal, however, his effort was superbly tipped over the bar by Vorm.
Both sides huffed and puffed in a bid to find a second goal of the evening prior to the half-time interval, although it wasn’t until the opening minutes of the second period that it occurred.
Unfortunately for the home side, a dangerous centre from the lively Hernandez landed perfectly on the head of Flores, and he dispatched coolly past Begovic for his third goal of the term.
The goal rejuvenated Monk’s players and they began to display the same attacking qualities that had seen them put Cardiff to the sword at the weekend.
Nathan Dyer fired inches wide from a tight angle after cleverly manoeuvring space for himself, just moments before substitute Jonathan de Guzman forced Begovic into a superb save to his right with a thumping effort from 30-yards.
Stoke, who were failing to reach the same performance levels that they hit against Manchester United in their previous home game, were again grateful to Begovic for keeping the scores level with an instinctive save to take the pace off Bony’s goal-bound effort before Shawcross volleyed the ball to safety from underneath the crossbar.
A sublime Adam free-kick very nearly resulted in a second goal of the evening for Stoke, with Shawcross and the recently introduced Steven Nzonzi narrowly failing to make the required contact with the out-swinging delivery.
In terms of opportunities that proved to be the final one worth noting, although the supporters and home players were aggrieved by the referee in the latter stages after he waved away two serious shouts for a penalty.