SC FREIBURG 1 (Krmas 2)
STOKE CITY 1 (Diouf 39)
STOKE CITY’S preparations for the forthcoming 2014/15 Barclays Premier League campaign drew to a climax in western Germany on Saturday afternoon as the Potters recorded a creditable 1-1 draw against Bundesliga side SC Freiburg.
Mame Diouf claimed his first goal for the Club since arriving from Hanover earlier in the summer, cancelling out defender Pavel Krmas second minute opener.
Both sides had opportunities to claim the victory with both Asmir Begovic and his opposite number Roman Burki producing a number of impressive saves during the encounter.
Without jumping to too many conclusions, many of the supporters’ eyes were fixated on the starting eleven, with the vast majority of the players included being almost certain of featuring from the off in next weekend’s hotly-anticipated 2014/15 Premier League curtain-raiser against Aston Villa.
There weren’t too many surprises with the Welshman’s selection however, with only two changes being made from the side that comfortably dispatched of Spanish outfit Real Betis at the Britannia Stadium 72 hours earlier.
The tightly-contested battle between Marc Muniesa and Erik Pieters edged slightly in favour of the Spaniard after he was given the nod to feature at his Dutch teammate’s expense, whilst arguably more intriguingly, Peter Odemwingie replaced the flamboyant Marko Arnautovic out wide.
Begovic lined up in goal for a second successive game, ushering a back four that comprised of Phil Bardsley, skipper Ryan Shawcross, Republic of Ireland international Marc Wilson and Spanish starlet Muniesa.
Glenn Whelan and Steven Nzonzi occupied the two holding midfield spots, with the aforementioned Odemwingie featuring as part of a lively looking front-four that also included Stephen Ireland, Bojan and Diouf.
The forecasted heavy showers thankfully weren’t evident at the Mage Solar Stadion, with blazing sunshine and temperatures reaching almost 30 degrees welcoming both sets of players as they took to the field shortly before 5:30pm local time.
A quite superb atmosphere swept around the arena prior to kick-off with a 200 or so travelling Stokie supporters doing their best to make themselves heard amongst the rather more vocal home contingent.
Unfortunately, the decibel levels were elevated even higher just 90 seconds in when some surprisingly lacklustre defending allowed Czech Republic born Krmas to rise unmarked at the backpost and plant a cool header beyond the reach of Begovic.
It certainly wasn’t the start Hughes and his players had in mind, yet despite a second scare just minutes later, the Potters did soon start to produce the more eye catching football with Nzonzi proving to be at the heart of most passages of play.
Bojan had netted three in as many games coming into this encounter and he will have felt slightly aggrieved not to have added to that impressive ratio after cutting inside of his defender 15-yards from goal, before skewing his strike harmlessly wide of the post.
At the other end the impressive Bardsley twice came to his side’s rescue with a couple of sublime last ditch challenges, before Shawcross displayed his qualities with a brave challenge of his own to thwart Stefan Mitrovic, who appeared destined to net from 8-yards.
Odemwingie stung the fingertips of ‘keeper Roman Burki with a thumping effort from 25-yards shortly before the half hour mark, and then Whelan did likewise with an equally as testing strike two minutes later.
The frustration on Diouf’s face was clear to see as he was either hacked down or penalised for innocuous challenges each time he came into contact with the ball, although he would have a major say on matters several minutes later.
Shawcross, more commonly associated with tough tacking and superb leadership at the back, pinged forward a delightful ball down the channel with his left foot, Diouf used his pace and power to shrug off a defender and eventually curled the ball beyond Burki and into the far corner of the net.
The goal signalled a drastic change in the direction of play as the visitors began to look the far more likely of the two teams to edge themselves in-front, especially following the half-time interval.
Ireland twice fired efforts over the bar from the edge of the area after being teed up by Odemwingie and Diouf, whilst the Senegalese striker himself had a chance to double his afternoon’s tally, but wasn’t able to get his head over a deep ball into the box.
The lively forward, enjoying his most impressive showing to date, met an Ireland centre and tested the Freiburg ‘keeper with a backtracking header on the hour mark, whilst substitute Charlie Adam brought the best out of Burki with a superb effort from 30-yards.
Begovic, a bystander for the initial 20 minutes of the second period, showed his class when he displayed tremendous agility to finger a goal-bound effort around the post, with Freiburg forward Admir Mehmedi already turning away to celebrate what he thought was a goal.
A plethora of changes from both managers signalled disruption to what was a thoroughly enjoyable encounter 20 minutes from time, but even after that there were still opportunities for both sides to have wrapped up their preparations for the new season with a victory.
A vital intervention from German international Robert Huth, who had replaced Marc Wilson, kept the scoreline level ten minutes from time, before the final chance of the day fell to Peter Crouch, who forced a smart save from the Freiburg stopper after diving to meet fellow substitute Jonathan Walters’ centre.
STOKE CITY: Begovic; Bardsley (Cameron 77), Shawcross, Wilson (Huth 73), Muniesa (Pieters 73); Whelan, Nzonzi (Sidwell 61); Bojan (Arnautovic 65), Ireland (Adam 61), Odemwingie (Walters 65); Diouf (Crouch 77). Subs: Sorensen, Teixeira.