STOKE CITY 0
STOKE CITY rounded off their preparations for the 2013/14 Barclays Premier League campaign with a goalless draw against Serie A side Genoa at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Potters will feel aggrieved not to have won the game, having squandered several good opportunities of breaking the deadlock – Jonathan Walters and Peter Coruch both going closest during an extremely dominant first 45 minutes.
The performance of the players will have pleased manager Mark Hughes however, who took charge of his first game on home soil since being appointed as Tony Pulis’ successor back in May.
The Welshman named Wilson Palacios amongst his starting eleven prior to the game, having seemingly been impressed with the pre-season showing thus far from the Honduran.
He lined up in a midfield trio that also included Steven Nzonzi and Charlie Adam, with Walters and Matthew Etherington the two getting the nod to start in the attacking wing roles.
Asmir Begovic was named in goal, holding off strong competition from Thomas Sorensen and Jack Butland, and he ushered a back four that featured Geoff Cameron, Ryan Shawcross, Robert Huth and summer acquisition Erik Pieters.
England international striker Crouch started as the lone striker, with the back up on the bench coming from the likes of Kenwyne Jones and Cameron Jerome.
Clearly relishing the new style and methods that are being implemented by the management team the Potters started the game superbly well, displaying a new found ball retention game and patiently building from the back.
The players’ contentment to ease their way forward almost paid off 10 minutes in as a series of slick passes down the right culminated in Jonathan Walters picking Crouch out with a delightful ball, only for the 32-year old to head against the post.
That effort came minutes after Scotland international Charlie Adam had tested the resolve of Genoa stopper Mattia Perin with a thunderous effort from 25-yards that had seemed destined to find its way into the bottom corner of the net.
At the other end a rare surge forward from the visitors briefly threatened Begovic’s goal, however, he continued to show why he is commonly regarded as one of the Premier League’s most impressive stoppers by comfortably gathering anything that came within his reach.
Stoke’s dominance continued with Adam firing wide of goal after more fluid football, whilst the best chance of the half fell to Walters 25 minutes in, who fired straight at the ‘keeper from 6-yards after Crouch had picked him out with a clever header at the back post.
A goal was the only thing missing from a very polished opening 45 minutes from the hosts, and truth be told that should have come 15 minutes from the interval as Cameron and Crouch linked up beautifully to free Nzonzi, but he smashed an effort into the side-netting rather than squaring to the unmarked Walters.
Still, the rate that the hosts were creating good opportunities will have undoubtedly pleased the watching Hughes, but he will have felt aggrieved to have gone into the break all square, especially having seen Huth force Perin into another top class save with a glanced header from an Adam set-piece.
Hughes shuffled his pack prior to the second half, probably with next weekend’s opening day clash encounter against Liverpool in mind, introducing Glenn Whelan, Cameron Jerome and Jermaine Pennant from the bench at the expense of Adam, Crouch and Etherington.
The visitors, who looked to lack endeavour and quality during the first half, started the second much brighter, and in fact went close to opening the scoring themselves 30 seconds in through Andrea Bertolacci, who forced Begovic into tipping his effort around the post.
Dutch international Pieters then displayed his attacking qualities by bursting down the left flank, but after manoeuvring himself from an awkward looking position he was unable to guide a thumping effort towards target, with the ball instead flying high into the Boothen End.
That proved to be the final action for the former PSV Eindhoven full-back as Hughes replaced him with fellow summer arrival Marc Muniesa, whilst Palacios and Cameron were also withdrawn at this point with Marc Wilson and Ryan Shotton coming on as their replacements.
The second period was undoubtedly played at a lower tempo by the hosts, possibly at the request of Hughes, who will have been desperate to ensure that none of his players picked up unnecessary injuries or suspensions with the big kick off at Anfield just seven days away.
That said, the Potters still controlled play, bossed the midfield positions and remained the more likely of the two sides to open the scoring – with Jerome in-particular looking threatening standing on the last man.
It was Jerome who was next to try his luck with a speculative half-volley that floated just over the bar, after Genoa’s backline had only half managed to clear away Pennant’s in-swinging centre.
The game was brought to another halt 15 minutes from time as the final substitutions were made, with Kenwyne Jones, Andy Wilkinson and Michael Kightly replacing Huth, Walters and Nzonzi.
'Fragmented' is probably the best way of explaining the final ten minutes of action as both teams looked to be content with their afternoon’s work – even though the hosts almost gifted a victory to the visitors five minutes from time when Wilkinson slipped and Luca Antonelli slammed an effort inches over the bar.
The result means that the Potters go into next weekend’s curtain raiser at Anfield having won three and drawn one of their last four friendlies – keeping clean sheets in each of those encounters.
STOKE CITY: Begovic; Cameron (Shotton 64), Shawcross (c), Huth (Wilkinson 76), Pieters (Muniesa 64); Walters (Jones 76), Palacios (Wilson 64), Nzonzi (Kightly 76), Adam (Whelan 46), Etherington (Pennant 46); Crouch (Jerome 46). Subs (Not Used): Sorensen, Cuvelier.
GENOA: Perin (Donnarumma 74), Biondini, Lodi, Gilardino (Flores 70), Antonelli, Cofie (Kucka 63), Santana, Vrsaljko, Manfredini, Portanova, Bertolacci (Konate 56). Subs (Not Used): Zima, Sampirisi, Strasser, De Maio, Granqvist, Ventre, Rafati, Velocci, Simic, Martinez, Blaze.
Referee: Jon Moss