PETER CROUCH’S stunning late header rescued a point for his side against Newcastle United in front of the live television cameras on Sunday afternoon.
The England international met fellow substitute Geoff Cameron’s deep centre with real aplomb to peg back the hosts, who looked on course to snatch an undeserved victory.
Mark Hughes rued two harsh dismissals last time the two sides met at St. James Park twelve months earlier when Martin Atkinson sent off both Glenn Whelan and Marc Wilson in controversial circumstances.
This time round referee Kevin Friend’s decision not to dismiss Newcastle midfielder Jack Colback looked destined to have just as big an impact on the outcome of this particular encounter.
The former Sunderland man had already been booked before he rashly hacked down Victor Moses right under the nose of the official, and whilst he awarded Stoke the free-kick, he opted not to follow it with what should have been a routine second caution.
Three minutes later the hugely fortunate Colback, who shouldn’t t have been on the field, struck gold for the Geordies, rattling home the opening goal of the game from 18-yards leaving Asmir Begovic helpless.
To Stoke’s credit though, they continued to dictate the tempo of the game and pressed forward in search of a leveller during the final exchanges.
With just 90 seconds of normal time remaining their persistence eventually paid off when Crouch looped home his seventh goal of the season from a tight angle.
Prior to kick-off Hughes was enforced into making two changes from the eleven that recorded maximum points against Queens Park Rangers eight days earlier.
Skipper Ryan Shawcross missed out with a back injury, paving the way for Marc Muniesa to partner the impressive Philipp Wollscheid, whilst Marko Arnautovic suffered an ankle injury in training during the week meaning a return to the side for Mame Diouf following his exploits at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Neither side was able to gain a real foothold on proceedings during the opening 45 minutes.
Chances were few and far between with Remy Cabella forcing Bosnian stopper Begovic into a superb reaction save from close range, before Ayoze Peres rifled an effort inches wide of goal after holding off the challenge of Marc Muniesa.
At the other end, a superb run from Steven Nzonzi culminated in the Frenchman freeing the tricky Stephen Ireland on the right, he picked out Diouf, only for the Senegalese to see his goal-bound effort blocked on the line by Tim Krul.
Whilst the Potters had the lion’s share of possession throughout the clash, the United backline remained resilient and dogged, and frustrated the visitors for long periods – always looking a threat on the break.
Moses’ pace on the wing caused problems to John Carver’s defenders, but the on-loan Chelsea ace’s technical skills weren’t quite reaching the standards City supporters have become accustomed to this term.
Walters, who grabbed a clinically taken hat-trick against QPR in the last league outing, was doing his best to break the deadlock – firing just wide from distance on two separate occasions during the opening 15 minutes of the second period.
Depleted of defenders prior to the clash, Hughes was dealt yet another blow when Marc Wilson had to be withdrawn midway through the second period after going down innocuously after challenging Peres for the ball.
United States international Cameron was brought on as his replacement, and he took up the role of right-back with former Sunderland star Phil Bardsley deputising for Wilson on the left.
Referee Friend had set his stall out earlier in the game, booking three Potters players for clumsy, but not reckless challenges, and when he opted not to hand a second caution of the game to Colback, you did wonder what impact that decision would have on the final 20 minutes of action.
Well, just three minutes later, the midfielder put his side in front. The young midfielder arrived late into the box to meet a cross-field ball and planted a thumping effort into the back of the net via the upright.
Cue disgruntlement from the sidelines and from the visiting supporters housed high in the stand behind the goal Colback had just scored in.
You couldn’t help but think of the circumstances from a year ago, which played a monumental role in Stoke’s downfall when they looked in cruise control against the Geordies and leading courtesy of Oussama Assaidi’s stunner.
On that occasion, the referee’s decision to reduce the Potters down to nine men was the sole reason behind Newcastle’s eventual 5-1 triumph.
Was history about to repeat itself up in the North East for a second successive campaign? Thankfully not!
Ireland had already seen a stunning effort from distance ruled out for offside, before Crouch deservedly levelled matters for his side with a delightful header from 10-yards, which despite the best efforts of the desperate Fabricio Coloccini, found its way over the line.
That goal ensured the Potters retianed their spot in tenth position in the league table - two points ahead of their hosts, Newcastle, who remained two points behind.