CHARLIE ADAM’S thumping effort secured his side a thoroughly deserved point against relegation threatened Sunderland at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Scotland international netted his third goal in four games midway through the first half after Connor Wickham had fired the visitors into a second minute lead.
The Black Cats frontman gratefully accepted an uncharacteristic fumble from Asmir Begovic to give his side the advantage after just 70 seconds.
Stoke hassled and harried though and eventually found a way back into the clash courtesy of Adam, who let rip a thunderous effort that flew into the top left hand corner of the net shortly before the half hour mark.
The Potters could, and maybe should, have wrapped up all three points with numerous opportunities that came and went, whilst Sunderland’s best opportunity fell to Billy Jones 20 minutes from time.
Prior to kick-off Mark Hughes handed everyone a major boost by naming Peter Odemwingie in his matchday squad for the first time since he suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury last August.
The Nigerian international had only been in full training for ten days, but the Welshman had seen enough to convince him that the forward was ready to be thrust back into the fold.
The only change to the starting eleven saw the more adventurous Adam replace the unlucky Glenn Whelan, who has enjoyed arguably his most consistent campaign at the Britannia Stadium.
The rain that was forecast was missing, the sun was shining and the inclusion of Odemwingie in the squad, together with last weekend’s comeback triumph over Southampton gave every City supporter huge reason for optimism ahead of kick-off.
That optimism turned to anguish just two minutes into the action however, as the visitors, who were thumped by Crystal Palace on their own patch two weeks ago, turned the formbook on its head and grabbed the opening goal.
A routine catch for Begovic was spilled, thus allowing Wickham to prod the ball past him before eventually seeing it over the line, despite the best attempts of Ryan Shawcross.
Cue the celebrations behind goal, as the travelling 2,000 or so Black Cats supporters displayed their delirium at the start of what they hoped would be a triumphant afternoon in North Staffordshire.
True to the character and spirit of Stoke City though, the players bounced back from that early setback and absolutely dominated the remaining 43 minutes of the half.
Rarely will you see a more one-sided first half of football, not in the Premier League, not in the Championship, not anywhere!
Hughes’ troops displayed the same swagger they showed during the latter stages of the 2013/14 campaign, passing the ball around beautifully and always looking dangerous in the final third of the pitch.
The re-emergence of Marko Arnautovic’s dazzling best was a joy to behold whilst Adam’s creativity and Stephen Ireland’s intricacy was key to the home side’s dominance.
Adam had already gone close on two occasions before he thumped home a splendid equaliser from 15-yards after Arnautovic had battled superbly well to lay the ball off into his path.
Mame Diouf was causing a real nuisance of himself too and it was he who laid on Ireland with a clever ball soon after, only for the former Manchester City man to see his half-volley deflect agonisingly wide of the target.
From the resulting corner, Shawcross was presented with a wonderful opportunity of registering his first goal of the calendar year, but was unable to keep his effort down, leaving Costel Pantilimon a relieved bystander.
Austrian maverick Arnautovic was next to try his luck, cutting in from the right and delivering a driven effort that brought the best out of Pantilimon in the Sunderland goal.
Adam then thumped an effort just over from an almost identical effort to where he scored from as the home side set about turning the screw into the struggling visitors, who were relying on good defending, and a small amount of fortune, to keep the scoreline level.
As the referee was just about to blow for the half-time interval, there was very nearly a major scare when Jermain Defoe was freed down the right after Philipp Wollscheid failed to clear his lines, but thankfully the usually prolific forward wasn’t quite on point, hammering his strike into the side-netting.
Black Cats boss Dick Advocaat had to make changes to his formation and to his personnel during the break, and it was no surprise to see him do both.
He reverted back to a more standard 4-4-2 formation and added the threat of Danny Graham to his forward line in a bid to beef up his attack and look to assert some pressure of their own, having seen the home side dominate the opening half.
The changes had the desired effect in terms of the possession stats, which were at the break 75 percent to 25 percent in Stoke’s favour.
Whilst the Black Cats looked more polished on the ball during the second half, truth be told, they rarely looked likely to leave the Potteries with three points in their bag for it was the home side, who looked the more likely to claim victory.
Senegalese international Diouf was left wondering what more he needed to do to net in his fourth successive home game when Pantilimon somehow blocked his powerful effort from 4-yards, after he neatly controlled Adam’s set-piece delivery.
The pair locked horns for a second time in as many minutes, but this time it ended with Diouf being booked after catching the ‘keeper with a late challenge having tried to block his clearance.
At the other end of the field Shawcross had to be at his brilliant best to deny Wickham from close range, who had stolen the ball off Wollscheid and moved forward into a position that he should at the very least have tested Begovic from.
There was more drama in the City penalty area when Begovic produced by far his most important action of the encounter, spreading his legs and somehow getting a foot onto Billy Jones’ seemingly goal-bound effort.
After the home side had managed to weather that brief storm, they began to flex their muscle once more in a bid to grab what surely would have been a match-winning third goal of the afternoon.
Jonathan Walters headed just over when well positioned 20 minutes from time, and that proved to be his final say on proceedings as Hughes opted to replace him with Odemwingie, whose arrival brought with it undoubtedly the biggest cheer of the day.
John O’Shea was hugely fortunate not to have received a second caution of the day after barging Steven Nzonzi in the back, before Adam very nearly had the last laugh with another superb effort from distance that Pantilimon finger-tipped around the post.