MARK BOWEN hailed the grit and determination shown by the Stoke City players after they were narrowly edged out by Liverpool at Anfield.
The Potters were beaten 1-0 in their Premier League curtain raiser but it could so easily have been a different story had Jon Walters beaten Simon Mignolet with a late, late penalty.
The Liverpool 'keeper made a super save to keep out the Republic of Ireland international's spot-kick and then blocked Kenwyne Jones' follow-up to dash Stoke's hopes of claiming a valuable point.
Bowen spoke to the press instead of Mark Hughes, who flew off on a European scouting mission immediately after the game, and refused to be too down-hearted.
"When you come to Anfield for the first game of the season you know it's going to be tough but we can't fault the way lads stuck at it," he said.
"Some teams have been known to go under here but going into the last 20-25 minutes I thought we were in the ascendancy.
"When you come to places like Liverpool you know you are going to come under pressure but we coped really well.
"The lads are disappointed; that's natural when you get a penalty so late on and don't score but no-one can point a finger at Jon because it was a great save from Mignolet, as was the one from Kenwyne on the follow-up.
"We showed a lot of grit and it gives us great optimism for the future. We're looking forward to having a really good week on the training ground, which wasn't possible last week with lads being away on international duty, and then facing Crystal Palace next Saturday in our first home game."
Mignolet may have become an Anfield hero on his debut but Asmir Begovic underlined his credentials with a 'Man of the Match' display.
He produced a string of outstanding saves and Bowen added: "Everyone knows how good Asmir is and he showed that today. He has shown since the day we came to the club what qualities he has got and the way he goes about his business is an example to others."
Bowen also confirmed that midfielder Wilson Palacios had been taken to hospital after complaining of severe stomach pains during the warm-up.
Palacios was named in the Potters' starting line-up but his place in midfield went instead to Marc Wilson.