EPL classic leads to equaliser
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.