RYAN SHAWCROSS late strike snatched his side a deserved point from Sunday’s live televised encounter against ten-man Hull City at the KC Stadium.
The England international scrambled home an equaliser seven minutes from time, after Phil Bardsley’s initial half volley had ricocheted into his path off the post.
All three points had looked to be heading Hull’s way after Croatian striker Nikica Jelavic had slid the hosts ahead shortly before the half-time interval, following James Chester’s earlier dismissal for a professional foul.
Prior to kick-off, Mark Hughes handed Steve Sidwell his first competitive start for the Club as the Welshman made two changes to his eleven.
The former Fulham star came into central midfield at the expense of the injured Stephen Ireland, whilst Peter Odemwingie was named in the team instead of Bojan Krkic.
The rest of the side remained unchanged from the one that succumbed to a narrow 1-0 defeat against Aston Villa eight days earlier.
Asmir Begovic ushered a back four that comprised of Bardsley, skipper Shawcross, Marc Wilson and Dutch international Erik Pieters.
Whelan, Steven Nzonzi and Sidwell were deployed in midfield, with Marko Arnautovic and Peter Odemwingie lining up on the flanks. Senegalese international Mame Diouf was deployed as the lone striker.
Buoyed by last weekend’s opening day victory over Queens Park Rangers, it was no surprise to see the hosts settle quicker into the game as they looked to build upon their 1-0 triumph at Loftus Road.
Steve Bruce, who made eight changes to his side from the one that suffered a narrow defeat against Lokeren in the first leg of their Europa League Play-Off on Thursday, will have been pleased with what he saw from his troops during the initial exchanges.
Tom Ince looked lively alongside the experienced Jelavic, whilst Jake Livermore and the more powerful Tom Huddlestone cut imposing figures at the heart of midfield.
For all of their early possession however, it was the visitors who had the first sight at goal – albeit from distance – as Arnautovic manoeuvred space for himself 25-yards out and let rip a thunderous effort that deflected wide of goal by the outstretched leg of Chester.
The former Manchester United youngster was right in the thick of the action again two minutes later – only this time for the wrong reasons.
A lacklustre ball across the pitch from Andrew Robertson allowed Whelan to nip the ball past the central defender, whose trailing leg felled the Republic of Ireland international.
That challenge left referee Jon Moss with no option but to dismiss the 25-year old, and in the process hand the initiative to Hughes’ side. Well, so you would have thought.
Unquestionably, the flow of the game changed dramatically as the visitors enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, but as proved to be their Achilles heel against Villa on the opening day, there was no panache or killer instinct in the final third.
A stunning centre from Odemwingie from the right very nearly found Nzonzi inside the 6-yard box in what was a rare threat upon the Tigers’ goal, whilst another Arnautovic strike brought the best out of Curtis Davies, who superbly thwarted his effort.
Growing increasingly frustrated by the slow tempo football his side were producing, Hughes took the initiative by thrusting Bojan into action at the expense of Whelan, who looked to be carrying a knock to his ankle.
Before the Spaniard had managed to touch the ball though, the home side had made the crucial breakthrough as Begovic’s superb save down to his left, from Huddleston’s strike, fell straight into the path of Jelavic who tucked home the rebound.
An undoubtedly stern half-time talking to from Hughes culminated in a far brighter showing during the second 45 minutes from his players.
The introduction of Bojan appeared to have added a little more urgency in the forward areas, whilst the arrival of Peter Crouch in the second period gave the Potters another option as they looked to fashion a leveller.
The tall striker went close with a half volley that fizzled just wide of McGregor’s upright midway through the half, whilst a clever lay off to Nzonzi saw the French-born midfielder surge through on goal, but his effort flew well over the bar.
Sidwell then slices an audacious effort from 30-yards well wide, before Hughes replaced the former Chelsea midfielder with Charlie Adam, who very nearly made an immediate impact with a thumping 40-yard strike that McGregor had to palm over.
Bojan’s clever in-swinging ball 20 minutes from time very nearly caught out the Hull ‘keeper, who had to gather the ball at the second attempt with Crouch standing by ready to tap home should he have fumbled.
Diouf was then presented with an opportunity of grabbing his first goal for the Potters but guided his header wide of goal, after the ball had fallen into his direction via a block from defender Davies.
As had been the case for the majority of the second 45 minutes, Bruce’s side were defending for their lives, and agonisingly for them, but thankfully for the Potters, their goal was breached just seven minutes from time when Shawcross poked home from 3-yards.
There was initially some controversy whether the ball had crossed over the line, but the goal-line technology only confirmed what the City skipper and his teammates already knew.
That goal breathed life into the 2,500 travelling Stoke, who all of a sudden scented blood, and hoped for an even more dramatic final few minutes.
As it was, it was the home side who went closest to recording a winner deep into stoppage time as Ahmed Elmohamady hammered just over the bar after Wilson was beaten on the left by the pace and trickery of Ince.