STOKE CITY endured a frustrating afternoon at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday as Premier League new boys Leicester City inflicted a second home defeat of the season upon Mark Hughes’ side.
Argentinean striker Leonardo Ulloa fired home the only goal of the game midway through the second half to secure the visitors a first victory of the campaign from an encounter the hosts dominated from start to finish.
In fact, the goal scored by the former Brighton and Hove Albion forward was the one and only effort that Nigel Pearson’s outfit had on target throughout the entire 90 minutes.
Hughes and his squad of players will feel aggrieved not to have been able to follow up their superb triumph against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium two weeks earlier, with the Potters guilty of spurning several opportunities to break the deadlock.
Peter Crouch headed wide of goal from 6-yards early on when he should have at least hit the target, whilst both Victor Moses and Bojan, who was recalled into the side at the expense of Mame Diouf, also went agonisingly close.
Prior to kick-off Hughes made just a single change to his starting eleven with Bojan replacing the fatigued Diouf, who only returned back to the UK on Friday afternoon following his international commitments for Senegal.
Clearly buoyed by their performance and result against the Citizens prior to the international break, the Potters looked lively during the initial exchanges and twice went close to netting the opening goal of the game through former England international Crouch.
The striker firstly headed wide from close range after powerfully meeting Moses’ out-swinging corner, and then acrobatically volleyed a stunning effort inches over the bar from the edge of the penalty area.
The Stoke onslaught continued with the pace of Moses and the tenacity of Jonathan Walters down the right causing the Foxes rear-guard numerous problems. Though to their credit, they were able to provide the answers to the majority of questions being posed to them.
Glenn Whelan, featuring in his 200th league appearance for the Club, was displaying superb athleticism in the middle of the pitch, as was his central midfield partner Steven Nzonzi, who cannoned an effort wide of goal following a mazy run from inside his own half.
For all of Stoke’s possession and neat and tidy play though, they, not for the first time this season, were finding it difficult to produce that penetrative ball in behind the defence which would have brought with it an elusive clear sight at goal.
There was a willingness to try that killer pass however, with Bojan and Nzonzi doing their best to fashion an opener for one of the trio of attacking players up top. Wes Morgan and Liam Moore weren’t to be breached however.
On the one occasion that they were prior to the interval Walters’ strike lacked conviction, with stand-in ‘keeper Ben Hamer being able to reposition himself and claim the ball having initially side-stepped the wrong way.
Frustrated by the home side’s dominance on the game Pearson introduced his high profile summer capture Esteban Cambiasso and Danny Drinkwater from the bench during the break in a bid to thrust a little more creativity into his team.
Cambiasso, who has enjoyed a glittering playing career across the continent, looked an assured customer, and added injected some much needed composure and class into the visitors set-up with his pin-point deliveries threatening to unearth the opening goal of the game.
It very nearly came when the midfielder delivered a sublime cross-field ball into the path of Ulloa, but with the striker set to pounce, Erik Pieters managed to get in front of the Argentinean and clear the ball behind for a corner.
At the other end, Stoke continued to look dangerous with Bojan forcing Hamer into a superb save to his left, whilst an almighty goalmouth scramble culminated in Walters very nearly hitting the back of the net after Crouch brilliantly brought the ball down and laid him off.
Referee Michael Oliver was at the thick of the action when he twice turned down penalty appeals for the home side.
His initial call to wave play on after Bojan went down inside the box was correct, but his decision not to point to the spot when Crouch was felled by three Leicester defenders left everybody inside the stadium dumbstruck. Hughes vented his frustration by kicking over the water bottles inside his technical area.
The Welshman’s frustrations grew even further soon after when an incisive Leicester counter-attack allowed Paul Konchesky to free Ulloa inside the box, who in turn netted his third goal of the campaign.
If the Potters were going to get anything out of the game then they were seemingly going to have to do it themselves, with the stubborn Foxes defence throwing their bodies in front of the ball whilst the official didn’t appear to be in any mood to help out the Potters.
Debutant Oussama Assaidi and Diouf were thrust on in a late bid to add creativity and pace to the Potters attack, and to their credit both players very nearly had a major say on the outcome of the game.
Assaidi was a bag of tricks and left his marker for dead twice, with his second piece of skill fashioning a sight at goal, only for the outstretched leg of Morgan to divert his well struck effort over the crossbar.
Diouf then forced Hamer into another good save from 10-yards, with former Potter Ritchie De Laet clearing the ball away from danger, just as Moses looked set to tap home the rebound inside the 6-yard box.
Leicester went close to sealing victory late on when Ulloa broke through on goal, but Wilson superbly denied the striker with a crucial challenge inside the 18-yard box.
Right at the death Assaidi’s neat delivery picked out Moses, but after he had shimmied away from a defender Hamer managed to get down low to his left and block the Nigerian’s goal-bound effort, and in the process secure his side maximum spoils for the first time this term.