Match report: Stoke City 2, Wigan Athletic 2
PETER Crouch signed off with a goal – should he ever end up at QPR by tomorrow's transfer deadline – but it wasn't enough for Stoke to lay their Wigan bogey to rest.
It's now just one win in 10 Premier League game against the Latics after Stoke contrived to blow a 2-0 lead last night.
A Ryan Shawcross volley in the first half was followed soon after the break by Crouch's first goal since September 29 following fine work by the excellent Charlie Adam.
Stoke relinquished their grip on the points, however, as James McArthur fired one back for Wigan before Franco di Santo volleyed them level.
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Either side could have won an open game thereafter, but it was Di Santo coming closest in the dying seconds when he would have won it for Wigan had he stretched another half-a-yard when poking a right-wing cross narrowly wide.
The final whistle was greeted with a quick jeer from frustrated fans, but at least there was far more adventure from Stoke during a performance in which Adam played his best game for the club.
Stoke, showing five changes from their 1-0 FA Cup fourth-round defeat to Manchester City, and playing with Dean Whitehead and Matthew Etherington as wing backs, would have soon been showing a sixth had an early head injury been inflicted on anyone other than Robert Huth.
But the big German, who had accidentally headed the side of Di Santo's head, eventually rose off the ground after four minutes of treatment and carried on with the obligatory bandage we so often see wrapped around his forehead.
Stoke were looking pretty perky early in proceedings, but could have done with a Jon Walters effort being 15 yards further to the left when he took aim from distance.
City remained encouragingly in the ascendancy in the opening quarter as both Adam and Steven Nzonzi advanced far enough to have menacing shots blocked.
And the Scotsman's early influence very nearly extended to a goal when he lined up one on his favoured left foot from 25 yards and was only just wide of the far stick with a fizzing effort.
Stoke's superiority was rewarded with a 23rd-minute opener – and Adam could claim his part after floating a free-kick into the Wigan area.
His delivery was actually a touch shallow and initially unpromising, but the headed clearance bounced off Wigan midfielder James McCarthy and careered goalward to leave Shawcross coolly volleying home from close range amid futile shouts for offside from the visitors.
The home side continued to combine steady defence with positive attack as Adam stood centre stage once again by curling a beauty just over the bar from the left-hand corner of the Wigan area.
He was certainly doing plenty to attract the attention of new Scotland boss Gordon Strachan in the directors' box after playing a right busy-body during the first 45.
Stoke were certainly good value for their half-time lead, though they had to survive one scare just before the break when an unmarked McArthur volleyed wide from Jean Beausejour's whipped cross from the left.
Adam started the second half where he left off in the first and was almost inevitably at the heart of Stoke's second less than three minutes after the interval.
City succeeded in smuggling the ball away from inside their own area – despite the customary freefall from Roger Espinoza – and that left Adam storming through a gaping hole from deep inside his own half before eventually letting loose with a low shot.
Ali Al Habsi dived full-length to his left to parry rather meekly – and Crouch followed in to slide the ball into an empty net for 2-0.
But Stoke were caught cold two minutes later, their concentration AWOL momentarily perhaps, as a neat Wigan build-up climaxed with Espinoza's perfectly-weighted through ball for McArthur to skate through the heart of City's defence for a finish of supreme confidence.
Game on again, therefore, and it wasn't long before Adam was announcing his presence yet again by curling a long-range free-kick over the wall and a couple of yards wide.
The home side were living on their nerves a little at the other end, however, as Wigan continued to probe with a lot more verve since the turnaround.
The point was soon proved, too, as Wigan drew level just after the hour when Espinoza's deep cross was nodded back into the danger area by McArthur for Di Santo to volley past a helpless Asmir Begovic.
Great finish, but shoddy defending.
Adam (well who else?) might have restored Stoke's lead in this wonderfully open contest shortly after, but an outstretched boot denied his a shot on goal from eight yards out.
The action quickly returned to the other end as Shaun Maloney's shot on the run forced Begovic to parry behind for the game's first corner… in the 64th minute.
Adam was surprisingly replaced by Cameron Jerome after just 65 minutes with plenty seemingly left in the tank, while there were evident jeers when crowd favourite Steven Nzonzi was sacrificed for Andy Wilkinson shortly after to enable a more conventional back line.
It was tense stuff as the visitors remained lively on the offensive against a Stoke side still sorting out its shape.
But there was nothing wrong with their shape when Glenn Whelan slid a ball down the channel for Jerome to smash narrowly wide from an unfavourable angle – just as the Boothen End was poised to hail a winner.