STOKE CITY’S Under-21s earned a hard-fought point from their encounter with table-toppers Fulham at Clayton Wood on Friday afternoon.
The Potters had the better of the chances in a tight contest but in the end couldn’t find a way past a resolute Cottagers defence and had to settle for draw.
The result means the Potters move back into the top half of the Barclays U21 Premier League table ahead of travelling to Everton on Monday, March 10.
The Potters were quickest out of the blocks against their visitors from London and almost took the lead early on through defender Alex Grant but his header from Joel Taylor scrumptious right-wing corner was cleared by a Fulham defender standing on the goalline.
Fulham, who went into the game having lost their previous encounter against Leicester City, had a great opportunity to break the deadlock on 15 minutes but Mananga Jonathan Buatu could only direct his free header at the far post wide of the Stoke upright.
City were looking lively and were camped inside the opposition half for long periods and went close through Elliot Wheeler as the full back saw his powerful drive deflected over the bar, before Grant stabbed towards goal from the resulting corner but his effort was saved by the ‘keeper.
It took until midway through the half before the visitors had their first meaningful effort at the Stoke goal, but Dale Eve was more than equal to Lyle-Freddy Verde’s 20-yard shot following Buomesca Tue Na Bangna’s delivery from the Fulham right.
Apart from that effort, the away side were hardly in the first period and City could have taken the lead on two separate occasions as the half drew to a close when a Fulham defender put in a last ditch challenge to deny Derice Richards from close range, before former Portsmouth starlet Grant was once more thwarted as his header from Charlie Ward’s corner was cleared off the line.
Fulham came out for the second period determined to improve upon their poor performance and they went mightily close to making the breakthrough within moments of the restart, but Eve pulled off a superb save to keep out Ange-Freddy Plumain’s shot from an acute angle.
In a more open half Adam Thomas tried his luck for the Potters when he found space on the edge-of-the-area before firing a powerful drive towards the top corner which Marek Rodak in the Fulham goal did well to tip over.
City continued on the front foot and once more went close through Thomas but the former Everton winger couldn’t quite grow enough to get a head to Alabi’s cross in the six-yard box, before French midfielder Eddy Lecygne forced the keeper into a smart save with a drive from just outside the penalty area.
In truth Fulham failed to create too much in front of goal and in the end Grant’s thunderbolt from 30 yards, which was pushed onto the post and then cleared away to safety in the dying minutes would have been nothing more than the Potters deserved for their attacking intent throughout the contest but they were yet again left to rue their inability to convert in front of goal as they failed to score for the third consecutive game.
Stoke City: Eve, Wheeler, Gomez-Nieto, Ward, Grant, Watkins (Sanders 72), Thomas, Lecygne, Alabi, Richards (Cook 72), Taylor. Unused: Bachmann, Monlouis, Coban.
Fulham: Rodak, Brister (Passley 45), Briggs, Pritchard, Buatu, Burgess, Bangna (Banya 51), Christensen, Dembele (Williams 51), Verde, Plumain. Unused: Oberschmidt, Islamovic.