STOKE CITY claimed a deserved point on the road against Burnley on Saturday afternoon and in the process achieved their highest ever Barclays Premier League tally.
The Potters’ 3-0 triumph over Tottenham Hotspur seven days earlier took them to the 50-point marker, the same total they ended the 2013/14 campaign with.
That outcome meant that just one point would be needed from the final two fixtures of the season to better the achievements of twelve months ago.
Despite the already relegated home side enjoying the better of the first half, the visitors ended the match the stronger of two teams and could have claimed maximum spoils had Tom Heaton not been alert to save Marc Muniesa’s superb long distance volley.
The result, together with Everton’s dramatic victory against West Ham United at the Boleyn Ground, means Mark Hughes’ side have secured a second successive ninth place finish in the league table.
Prior to kick-off the Welshman surprised many people by including skipper Ryan Shawcross in his starting eleven just 24 hours after effectively ruling him out of the encounter.
The inclusion of the England international meant that Hughes was able to names the same side that comfortably dispatched of European-chasing Tottenham Hotspur a week earlier.
The only changes to the matchday squad saw Asmir Begovic and Marc Wilson included amongst the substitutes with Thomas Sorensen and Phil Bardsley missing out.
Both sides came into the game on the back of impressive wins last time out, but whilst the Potters’ record 14th triumph of the term took the side to the landmark 50-point barrier, Burnley’s sixth victory of the campaign, against Hull City, was ultimately in vain.
Despite Danny Ings ending his goal-drought to claim all three points at the KC Stadium, results elsewhere meant that the Clarets were relegated back down to the Championship just twelve months after winning promotion.
The opportunity to build upon that win and claim maximum spoils in their last home match of the season was a real driving force behind their bright start to this particular fixture.
Ings, largely expected to have been featuring in his final outing at Turf Moor, was a constant menace to the Stoke rear-guard, using his pace and trickery to forge a number of early sights at goal, but wasn’t ever able to seriously worry Butland.
That said, the young ‘keeper did have to be alert to thwart both George Boyd and Ashley Barnes during the first-half, after both players found themselves unmarked inside the 18-yard area.
The home side’s onslaught continued with Ings finally managing to hit the target, but not for the first time the impressive Butland came to the Potters’ rescue with a superb instinct save down to his right.
Slowly, but surely, the visitors were able to gain some kind of foothold on proceedings with Jonathan Walters wasting a decent opportunity of netting the opening goal of the campaign from a Charlie Adam corner.
The tireless Walters did well to forge an opening for himself moments later after beating two Burnley defenders, but his effort at goal wasn’t quite as impressive – flying well wide of Tom Heaton’s right post.
The Republic of Ireland international did markedly better ten minutes before the interval however, bursting down the left and delivering a pin-point centre, straight into the path of Mame Diouf, but the Senegalese wasn’t able to hit the target from 8-yards.
Diouf, Stoke’s leading goalscorer, was at the thick of the action once more immediately after the break, but after managing to make better contact with the ball than he did earlier, Heaton’s reflects enabled him to palm the striker’s close range effort around the post.
All of a sudden it was the visitors and not the hosts who looked to have the wind in their sails, and in truth looked the more likely of the two teams to net what would surely have transpired to have been the only goal of the encounter.
Hughes’ troops displayed far more patience on the ball during the second period, but lacked the killer-touch that served them so well in the recent three-goal salvo against Mauriccio Pochettino’s Spurs.
Ings, the only real problem-maker to the visitors in the second half, was unable to bid farewell to Lancashire with a goal on his final outing in those parts, squandering a 70th minute opportunity from 20-yards.
Hughes used all three available substitutions to him as he looked to mastermind a late winner with Peter Odemwingie, Peter Crouch and Steve Sidwell all being thrust into the action.
Steven Nzonzi, arguably the side’s most consistent performer in 2014/15, nearly broke the deadlock six minutes from time with a long range strike that drifted just wide, before Spanish youngster Muniesa let rip a thumping volley that Heaton had to be alert to claim on the line deep into stoppage time.