CHARLIE ADAM’S stoppage time penalty rescued Stoke City a point from an exhilarating encounter at the Liberty Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The Scotland international displayed incredible composure to stroke the ball home under intense pressure after his side looked to have surrendered the point that they deserved in South Wales.
First half strikes from Jonathan Walters and Stephen Ireland sent the visitors into the half-time interval in complete control, however, a sterling second half comeback, thanks to a brace from Wilfried Bony and a fortuitous Nathan Dyer effort, appeared to have earned the hosts all three points.
Deep into stoppage time though the referee awarded the visitors a lifeline following an apparent handball inside the box by Wayne Routledge.
Adam displaying pure brilliance from the spot to send the travelling 600 Stoke supporters into delirium behind the goal, and elevate the Potters out of the bottom three, at Fulham’s expense.
Mark Hughes made one change to his starting line-up ahead of kick-off with Honduran international Wilson Palacios earning himself a recall at the expense of Glenn Whelan.
The rest of the side was as you were against Sunderland eight days earlier, meaning the likes of Robert Huth, Erik Pieters and Walters all passed late fitness tests after initially being rated as doubtful.
Walters’ inclusion in the eleven meant that he reached a landmark 100 consecutive top-flight starts – a feat that no other current outfield player in the Premier League is able to boast.
An impeccable minute silence was held by both sets of supporters prior to kick-off to commemorate Remembrance Sunday, and the start that Stoke made to the game was equally as impressive as they managed to peg the hosts back into the own half for the opening five minutes.
Unfortunately though the intense pressure failed to reap any rewards, with the Swans backline able to provide the answers to the questions being posed of them by Stoke’s attacking quartet of Crouch, Marko Arnautovic, Ireland and Walters.
It didn’t take Michael Laudrup’s side too long to find their groove however, as they displayed the panache and attacking qualities that has become synonymous with the South Wales side.
Alejandro Pozuelo, one of five changes amongst the Swans team, played a neat one-two with Roland Lamah, took one touch and forced Asmir Begovic into a superb save down to his left just six minutes in.
It was at the other end of the pitch that the initial breakthrough was made though, arguably in trademark Stoke fashion.
Shawcross’ long punt forward was glanced on by Crouch, Walters outmuscled and outpaced both Chico Flores and Ben Davies, moved towards goal and sublimely slipped the ball beyond the approaching Gerhard Tremmel and into the back of the net.
The strike stunned the majority of the supporters inside the Liberty Stadium, but credit to the home players because if anything it rejuvenated them and they pushed even harder to get themselves back in the game.
A couple of half chances were squandered by Ivory Coast hit-man Bony during a dominant Swansea period of play, whilst Lamah was guilty of squandering their best opportunity with a tame header straight at Begovic from 8-yards.
Those missed chances were to cost the hosts dearly as midway through the half an incisive Potters counter-attack culminated in goal number two, and the first league strike of the season for on-loan Aston Villa man Ireland.
The 28-year-old latched onto a delightful ball through from Crouch, controlled the ball with his right, and in one swift movement guided the ball into the bottom corner of the net with his left to double the visitors advantage from 10-yards.
For all of Stoke’s dogged and determined defending, the lead was almost halved immediately after as a sloppy ball from Pieters freed Bony through on goal, but not for the first time this season Begovic came to his side’s rescue with a crucial double save.
Bony, Swansea’s all-time record signing, squandered another chance five minutes before the interval, heading harmlessly wide of goal after leaping highest to meet Routledge’s dangerous ball into the box.
With the hosts pressing frantically in search of an avenue back into the game it came as no surprise to see gaps begin to open at the back, and when Walters and Ireland began to combine well to exploit them it appeared that a third goal may not be too long in waiting.
Unfortunately that strike didn’t come, and Swansea’s pressure eventually paid off ten minutes after the break when Bony found himself unmarked inside the penalty area and finally managed to open his account for the afternoon.
The goal breathed fresh life into the home side, and their supporters, and with each and every surge forward that followed you could almost sense the expectancy that Laudrup’s side would eventually manage to pull themselves level.
Hughes responded by thrusting Matthew Etherington into action at Arnautovic’s expense in a bid to deal with the troublesome Dyer, whilst Adam and Marc Wilson were both introduced in the heart of the side as the visitors looked to shut up shop.
Within five minutes though, and arguably inevitably, Swansea were back on level terms – albeit with a huge slice of good fortune.
Dyer, whose pace was causing the Stoke rearguard no end of problems on the right hand side of the field, mishit an effort straight into the turf, before it bounced up, squeezed between four players and found its way into the back of the net.
In truth, the momentum that the home side had built up, it appeared that should there be a fifth goal of the afternoon then it would fall in their favour – and with just three minutes of normal time remaining that is exactly what happened.
Jonjo Shelvey twisted and turned on the left hand side, pulled a dangerous ball across goal straight into the path of Bony, and he side-footed home surely what would transpire to be the match winning goal.
How wrong were we though? For six minutes into added time, a goalbound header was handled on the line by Routledge, and the referee wasted no time in awarding the spot kick much to the anger of the majority of supporters inside the stadium.
Thoughts of Anfield on the opening day of the campaign flickered through the minds of several media personnel camped inside the press box, but those painful memories were washed away from the moment that Adam made contact with the ball and stroked it confidently into the bottom corner of the net.
The goal secured the visitors a point, but more importantl moved the side out of the drop zone after briefly falling into bottom three following Norwich’s victory against West Ham United 24 hours earlier.