STOKE CITY could hardly have been presented with a tougher start to their 150th Anniversary as they faced their reigning Barclays Premier League Champions and the Champions of Europe in their first two matches of the New Year.
An impressive ten-match unbeaten run came to an end when City made the trip to the Etihad Stadium to take on Manchester City and that set the tone for a largely disappointing month on both the Premier League and FA Cup fronts.
The Potters initially held their own, but once Pablo Zabaleta had given Roberto Mancini’s men the lead shortly before half-time, they never looked back.
Edin Dzeko doubled the lead early in the second half and although replays showed that Steven Nzonzi’s foul on David Silva for the penalty occurred outside the box, City richly deserved the points as Sergio Aguero converted the spot-kick.
The pursuit of Premier League points was put to one side as City travelled to the capital for an FA Cup third round showdown with Crystal Palace, but the Championship outfit proved stubborn opposition and bagged a goalless draw.
The Potters did eventually secure their passage through to the fourth round of the Cup, but Palace again made life difficult in the replay.
A late Glenn Murray penalty cancelled out Kenwyne Jones’ opener and took the tie into extra-time, where two goals from Jonathan Walters and a Cameron Jerome effort secured a hard-fought 4-1 victory late on a bitterly cold night.
Walters’ brace brought a smile back to the face of the Republic of Ireland international, who had cut a forlorn figure a few days earlier following a 4-0 home defeat at the hands of Chelsea.
City contributed to their own downfall as Walters scored two unfortunate own goals, while a Frank Lampard penalty and a long range strike from Eden Hazard brought a 17-match unbeaten run at the Britannia Stadium to an abrupt end.
There was little for anyone to smile about after a 3-1 defeat at Swansea, despite Michael Owen bagging the 150th Premier League goal of his career and his first for the Club.
Owen’s last-gasp goal was nothing more than a mere consolation after Swansea had taken a firm grip on proceedings courtesy of aJonathan de Guzman brace and a Ben Davies goal.
City’s interest in the FA Cup came to an end as a solitary Zabaleta goal earned Manchester City a place in the fifth round and there was more frustration at the end of the month in the shape of a 2-2 draw with Wigan after surrendering a two-goal lead.
Goals from Ryan Shawcross, who had signed a new long-term contract earlier in the month, and Peter Crouch appeared to put them in command, but Wigan hit back with strikes in quick succession from James McArthur and Franco Di Santo.
The Club continued to build for the future in the transfer window by signing England goalkeeper Jack Butland from Birmingham and US international Brek Shea from FC Dallas. Butland was immediately loaned back to the Blues for the remainder of the season.