Stoke City: Potters held to draw by Yeovil
TOURING Stokies were re-visiting the horrors of Rhyl and Macclesfield in pre-seasons gone by for a short time here in deepest Somerset last night.
Yeovil's early second-half penalty threatened to leave the optimists reaching for that old cliché about friendly results mattering little.
But a Kenwyne Jones equaliser – via a trademark header we all want to see in greater abundance – levelled the scores in a game Stoke never deserved to lose.
Their play remains too scratchy in parts, even by pre-season standards, and we can only hope the rigorous training schedule provides a genuine excuse for the heavy-looking legs and bouts of sloppy play.
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Ryan Shotton was one of the few on show to regularly display the kind of energy needed when it all kicks off on August 18 at Reading – while that headed equaliser is a tantalisingly infuriating reminder of what Jones can achieve with the right service and the right attitude.
Stoke's best moment of the first half, for which there wasn't much early competition in truth, came in the ninth minute when a move of genuine quality should have provided the opening goal.
Matthew Etherington, still showing encouraging flashes of his best form, slipped a perfectly-weighted ball inside the full-back for Jon Walters to cross low from the Stoke left.
Sadly, Jones and the ball weren't quite on a collision course, so the delivery sneaked through his control and Yeovil were able to scramble it clear of the danger zone.
Etherington's premature exit in the 25th minute threatened to do little to improve Stoke's stuttering first-half momentum.
But then a mini purple patch saw Polish trialist Sebastian Boenisch venture into shooting territory before letting fly with an effort home keeper Marek Stech did well to palm smartly aside.
Stech relied more on positioning and handling to foil Stoke's next incursion when Jones headed Marc Wilson's right-wing cross straight at the Czech keeper.
Stech was virtually helpless just before the break, however, when Shotton jinked in from the Stoke right and unleashed a fierce grass-cutter that streaked a foot past the far post.
Events weren't quite so dramatic at the other end, despite Asmir Begovic's on-going pre-season habit of leaving hearts-in-mouth when some dodgy footwork on the greasy surface nearly gifted Yeovil an eye to goal from nothing.
Yeovil's wide men were giving full-backs Wilson and Beonisch the slip on occasions as the home side looked lively in non-threatening areas.
The one exception came late in the half when Reuben Reid, enjoying a physical tussle with Ryan Shawcross, almost combined with Gozie Ugwu in front of a temporarily exposed Stoke goal.
Cameron Jerome's half-time arrival for Wilson triggered a major reshuffle which saw no fewer than four positional changes to accommodate the substitution.
Stoke were still digesting the changes when referee Iain Williamson pointed to the penalty spot – amid few claims from the home side – after Shawcross was adjudged to have shoved fellow defender Byron Webster in the back at a right-wing corner.
Reid, escaping the attentions of Shawcross for once, deposited his spot-kick low into the right-hand corner past Begovic's full-length dive.
Shawcross might have made pretty rapid amends at the other end from a half-cleared corner, but his speculative shot on the turn was a couple of yards wide of the bullseye.
Shotton remained a latent goal threat – despite switching to right-back from right midfield after Jerome's introduction – and looked suitably miffed when his deep cross from the right sailed over the keeper and bounced off the top of his crossbar.
City continued to press forward as a move from the left, spurred by Jerome's willingness to commit defenders, climaxed with Jamie Ness slicing a hooked effort off target with possibly his first goal attempt as a Stoke player.
And this little period of pressure paid dividends with a well-executed goal as Boenisch crossed deep towards the far post for Jones to out-jump everyone to nod in from close range.
It was more than enough to bring 350 Stokies, even those enjoying too much of the local cider, leaping to their feet from the corner of the main stand.
Yeovil needed something to bring them back to life – and very nearly found it on the break when James Hayter warded off two defenders before driving low to force Begovic into a smart save.
Walters was in similar action within 60 seconds at the other end, but drilled disappointingly over after neatly teeing up his twitchy right foot on the edge of the box.
Wilson Palacios took exception to a late challenge from Reid and, having gone nose-to-nose with the Yeovil striker for a second time to register his grievance, there were shouts from the crowd to alert the referee of a possible scuffle kicking off.
No wonder the crime rate is so low in this part of the world.
Yeovil then squandered a temporary two-v-one – the one being the chuntering Palacios – as they broke on a corner from which Stoke themselves might have netted in a brief goalmouth scramble.
The evening ended with the PA wishing Tony Pulis and his players all the best for the new season, sparking a round of applause from a generous home support.
These people are nearly as nice as the Americans.
Yeovil: Stech, Ayling (Young, 73), McAllister (Ralph, 81), Hinds, Webster, Blizzard, Upson, Hayter (Marsh Brown, 73), Reid, Foley (Haynes Brown, 81), Ugwu. Subs: Marsh Brown, Stewart, Young, Ralph, Haynes Brown.
Stoke: Begovic, Wilson (Jerome, 46), Boenisch (Higginbotham, 73), Shawcross, Upson, Shotton, Whelan (Arismendi, 61), Whitehead (Palacios, 61), Etherington (Ness, 25), Walters (Delap, 66), Jones (Tonge, 73).
Referee: Iain Williamson (Berkshire)