Potters earn a potentially pivotal point against Champions League hopefuls...
STOKE CITY kept the candle burning in their bid to stave off the very real threat of relegation at Anfield on Saturday lunchtime thanks to a tremendously spirited and determined display.
Jurgen Klopp’s men came into the fixture buoyant on the back of a 5-2 thumping of Roma in the last four of the Champions League earlier in the week, but struggled to find an avenue beyond a stubborn City rear-guard in front of the live television cameras.
Coming into the encounter four points adrift of Swansea City, Paul Lambert’s men knew they realistically needed maximum spoils if they were to seriously threaten one of the top-flight’s greatest ever escape acts.
But, the point they secured was enough to temporarily elevate themselves above Southampton in the league table as well as closing the gap on the Swans to just three - keeping alive any hope of prolonging the Club’s 10-year spell in the Premier League.
It was never going to be straightforward, and it was always going to be nervy, especially knowing that defeat coupled with a Swansea victory over Chelsea later in the day could have sealed the Potters fate with two games to spare.
Liverpool made five changes to their starting line-up, undoubtedly with Wednesday’s second leg encounter with Roma firmly in the mind of Klopp.
Somewhat surprisingly the German boss opted to start leading marksman Mohamed Salah, and it was he who should have broken the deadlock just five minutes into the action.
A long ball forward from Alberto Moreno caught Erik Pieters out, leaving the Egyptian ace free on goal, only for his composure to uncharacteristically let him down, clipping the ball over Jack Butland but dropping the wrong side of the post.
The visitors weren’t overawed by their more illustrious opposition though, and surged forward on several occasions with Moritz Bauer a real livewire out wide, producing several moments of real quality that very nearly presented his side with a crucial opening.
He firstly linked up superbly well with Xherdan Shaqiri before dropping an inch perfect ball on to the head of the tireless Mame Diouf, which the Senegalese nodded into the side-netting before the Austrian ace again raced forward and played a delightful ball across the danger zone that narrowly evaded Peter Crouch’s out-stretched foot.
At the other end Danny Ings saw a thumping strike correctly ruled out for offside before Jack Butland was called into serious action for the first time, producing a superb reaction save to thwart Trent Alexander-Arnold from 10-yards.
The second half was undoubtedly more one sided as the hosts pressed and harried for a breakthrough, but to Stoke’s credit they, to a man, defended with everything they had to keep the home side at bay.
Referee Andre Marriner was twice put under pressure to award a penalty with Pieters the man at the centre of the controversy on each occasion, although television replays suggested the official was correct not to penalise the Dutchman for firstly a foul on Salah and then, later in the match, a handball.
Whilst it was Liverpool who looked the more likely to fashion what would in truth have been an undeserved winner, it was the visitors who had by far the best opportunity with Diouf doing well to dink a ball across the six-yard box only for Ryan Shawcross, who was sensational at the back alongside Kurt Zouma, to prod marginally wide.
The full-time whistle brought with it murmurs of frustration from the home crowd, although the visiting contingent in the bottom corner were in far more buoyant mood, celebrating what could yet be one of the biggest point’s in modern day history.