Stoke City: Match report v West Bromwich Albion
YOU know what, this was arguably the best atmosphere the Britannia Stadium has ever generated in the Premier League.
There's been noisier, more joyous and more humorous occasions, not least when Arsene Wenger has been stood on the touchline performing like a man with ants in his pants.
But given the circumstances on Saturday – an audience divided into the angry, the frustrated and the downright pessimistic – this was a remarkably reassuring show of support and loyalty by fans who really do care.
Grievances appeared to have been suspended for 90 minutes to help inspire a performance full of heart and positive intent from their players.
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From the moment Ryan Shotton scythed down an opponent perilously close to his own penalty area, this was evidently a Stoke team determined to bust a gut for the cause.
And you can always rely on referee Mike Dean, however competent his overall display, to grab the role of pantomime villain from others a little closer to home.
Stoke were the only team trying to win the game at the business end of the afternoon against an Albion side happy with the draw that now leaves them with just two league wins in the last 31 meetings between these old adversaries.
Underlying problems remained for everyone to see, not least Stoke's failure to produce anything like enough efforts on goal, but here at least was a crowd and a team still connecting for the greater good.
That should be enough to drag Stoke safely through to the end of the season when the manager, as he well knows, has to recruit the kind of personnel capable of producing better football and better results to reward the kind of patience and backing we witnessed on Saturday.
His selection and evident instructions against Albion certainly did nothing to strengthen the case for those wanting a change. Even those calling for Kenwyne Jones instead of Peter Crouch must have been mildly surprised by his relatively early introduction from the bench just after the hour.
As for Charlie Adam, even his greatest fan now appears resigned to the kind of cameo we saw in the latter stages on Saturday as this season seems certain to end with that lingering question mark hovering stubbornly above his head.
Matthew Etherington personified his team's positive approach more than most after returning from a recent back injury to provide consistent endeavour and penetration down the left-hand side.
Sadly, and in keeping with Stoke of late, too little was to materialise from such honest toil as Ben Foster's panther-like sorties from his goal-line were usually sufficient to quell what modest danger there was.
Too rarely was Foster scrambling with a wing and a prayer as he did late in the first half when a Jon Walters shot deflected and looped narrowly past the far post.
Too seldom was Foster rooted helplessly on his goal-line as he was late in the second half when a Marc Wilson header from a left-wing corner sailed a couple of yards wide of the far post.
Adam's presence promised much amid Stoke's powerful and energetic finish to the afternoon, but twice he failed to exploit free-kicks awarded just outside the Albion area.
Still the home crowd would strike a chord, however, on an afternoon when only Delilah was missing from their varied and resilient repertoire.
And such diligent and loyal support was so nearly rewarded with a late winning goal Stoke had deserved, they could argue justifiably, against an Albion side for whom the much-touted Romelu Lukaku threatened on just two occasions with headers during the third quarter of the contest.
It was Lukaku's nearest equivalent in the Stoke camp, Kenwyne Jones, who controlled on his chest some 12 yards from goal before poking his volley straight at Foster amid expectant gasps from the Boothen End behind the Albion goal.
A breakthrough then might even have had us reminiscing about the crescendo which once greeted Mama Sidibe's injury-time winner against Villa on the Britannia's Premier League debut, or any one of several goals to leave the Arsenal manager cringing with embarrassment.
Saturday was a victory of sorts, such has been Stoke's fortune of late, but they still require a couple of conventional successes to prevent this season concluding amid simmering anger and unseemly recrimination.
For now, and hopefully for a lot longer, the (baseball) cap still fits.