EPL clas­sic leads to equaliser

CityPress - - Sport -

A goal from vet­eran striker Peter Crouch earned Stoke City a point against a re­ju­ve­nated Le­ices­ter City side in their English Pre­mier League (EPL) clash at the bet365 Sta­dium yes­ter­day.

The home side came into the fix­ture fol­low­ing a morale-boost­ing 1-0 vic­tory over high-fly­ing Wat­ford last week, which head coach Mark Hughes said cov­ered some of the scars from a 7-1 thrash­ing at the hands of Manch­ester City last month.

But they wel­comed a Foxes side brim­ming with con­fi­dence, un­beaten in five, with three straight wins since the de­par­ture of Craig Shake­speare.

New head coach Claude Puel seem­ingly hasn’t changed much of the tac­ti­cal set-up since his ar­rival, with his only no­table change be­ing the in­clu­sion of the ex­plo­sive winger De­marai Gray into the start­ing XI.

Af­ter his eye-catch­ing dis­play in the 2-0 win over Ever­ton, the Eng­land youth in­ter­na­tional re­tained his place in the team and gave his marker Kurt Zouma a tor­rid time on the flank.

With chances flow­ing freely in a con­fi­dent counter-at­tack­ing dis­play, it seemed just a mat­ter of time be­fore Puel’s side took the lead, but it ar­rived from an un­likely source.

De­fen­sive mid­fielder Vi­cente Iborra, who was show­ing in­cred­i­ble com­po­sure in mid­field took ad­van­tage of some slack zonal mark­ing from the home side to prod home a loose ball af­ter Riyad Mahrez’s de­liv­ery was kept in play by Harry Maguire at the far post.

But the vis­i­tors were soon pun­ished for their lack of in­ci­sive­ness when Xher­dan Shaqiri grabbed an equaliser just six min­utes later, to­tally against the run of play.

Start­ing from Zouma’s through ball to Eric Choupo-Mot­ing, the Cameroon in­ter­na­tional’s sen­sa­tional heel flick found the on­rush­ing Swiss for­ward, who then opened his body up to smash a left-footed fin­ish into the far cor­ner be­yond Kasper Sch­me­ichel.

At half-time, both man­agers would have been un­happy with their sides’ de­fen­sive shapes, with Hughes 3-4-3 for­ma­tion still find­ing its rhythm and the vis­i­tors guilty of jump­ing into chal­lenges.

How­ever, the ter­ri­ble winds within the bet365 didn’t aid ei­ther side as through balls of­ten found the crowd – rather than a team­mate.

But when the sides found flu­id­ity in their pass­ing, it be­came some­what of a Pre­mier League clas­sic with end-to-end foot­ball on dis­play.

On the hour mark, Puel’s side re­gained their lead with the 2015/16 PFA Player of the Year Mahrez scor­ing a trade­mark goal by cut­ting in on his left foot to smash the ball past Jack But­land.

The joy was short-lived for his man­ager though when Iborra limped off the field of play with a sus­pected an­kle in­jury, to be re­placed by Andy King – which af­fected the con­trol the Foxes had in mid­field.

Stoke sup­port­ers knew they had their backs against the wall and cre­ated a hos­tile at­mos­phere for the rest of the en­counter, with loud jeers for the Le­ices­ter play­ers and deaf­en­ing cheers for any at­tack­ing play from their own side.

And a crescendo of noise sur­rounded the place when Hughes’ sec­ond-half sub­sti­tute Crouch found a timely equaliser, as he met Shaqiri’s cor­ner at the near post with a pow­er­ful header.

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