Crouch rises to the rescue as Southgate looks on
Peter Crouch has never officially retired from international duty with England but his enduring qualities will not have escaped Gareth Southgate here. Crouch produced a trademark equaliser, a powerful header, in front of the England manager, and while a recall is unlikely there are few strikers in his mould left in the Premier League.
The 36-year-old has not appeared for his country since winning his 42nd cap in a friendly against France in November 2010 but he remains immensely important to Stoke: he is the gamechanger, the go-to man when the game is threatening to slip away, and his contribution here as a substitute ensured the third successive 2-2 draw between these two sides at the bet365 Stadium.
Crouch may detest his tag as a super-sub, regularly bemoaning his lack of starts whenever he gets the opportunity, but it is fully deserved at the moment.
Mark Hughes, the Stoke manager, said: “Everyone is saying Peter is Plan B – if he continues like this, he may well be Plan A.
“Peter’s quality and attributes are there for all to see. He came on and was a real threat – once you bring him on he’s a completely different problem for the opposition.
“An England recall? I think Peter has discussed this before, but never say never. He is a guy that we all feel has more games and more seasons at this level.
“It only illustrates what a great professional he is. I played until I was 38 and wanted to be on the training pitch every day.”
Crouch had been on the field for just four minutes when he capitalised on poor Leicester marking, particularly from Harry Maguire, to power Xherdan Shaqiri’s corner past Kasper Schmeichel.
He ensured that this time it was Stoke who recovered the game, after previously tossing away two-goal leads in their past two encounters with Leicester in the Potteries.
Under Claude Puel, Leicester appear to be relying on the counter-attack, utilising the speed of Jamie Vardy, Riyad Mahrez and Demarai Gray, against a Stoke defence who are not always renowned for their mobility.
But it was from a Mahrez corner that they took the lead in the 33rd minute, midfielder Vicente Iborra hooking the ball past Jack Butland after Maguire’s knock-down. Iborra, signed from Sevilla in the summer for £12.5 million, already looks a shrewd purchase and Leicester’s grip on midfield was clearly affected when he limped off midway through the second half with an ankle injury.
Iborra also missed two decent chances shortly after his first goal for the club, and with Southgate making a rare trip to the Potteries, Butland also produced an excellent save to push away Shinji Okazaki’s close-range header. It was a timely moment for the Stoke keeper, who is surely now in pole position to become England’s No 1, ahead of the friendlies against Germany and Brazil.
Leicester had been threatening to run away with the game, only for Stoke to equalise out of nowhere six minutes before half-time. Maxim Choupo-Moting’s clever flick caught out the Leicester defence and Shaqiri broke clear to bend the ball into the corner.
The game was now finely balanced, both teams making mistakes and chances, with Mahrez close to finding the corner after another menacing run down the left from Gray.
Schmeichel then saved brilliantly from Ryan Shawcross, but Mahrez finally earned the goal his play deserved just after the hour, cutting in on his left to direct his shot under Butland.
Inevitably, Crouch was introduced as time began to tick away and Stoke ripped up their original game plan. It produced an almost instant impact, with the striker capitalising on Maguire’s loss of concentration to meet Shaqiri’s corner with a fierce header into the corner. “Peter Crouch is always difficult to play against,” said Puel afterwards, ruefully.
Kelechi Iheanacho had a goal disallowed for offside late on, with Schmeichel also saving from Kurt Zouma in added time, but nothing could separate the two sides after another absorbing encounter.
Puel now has a victory and a draw from his two games in charge, with league leaders Manchester City up next after the international break.
He said: “We had a lot of chances today. It’s a pity because I think we deserved more. We had passion and intensity. It is difficult to accept this draw. I don’t know if it is a fair result but we could have lost in the last action without the fantastic save of Kasper but I think it is an encouraging game.
“We can improve on the goals we conceded but this was interesting for the future.”
Stoke (3-4-2-1) Butland 6; Zouma 7, Shawcross 7, Wimmer 6; Diouf 6 (Berahino 86), Fletcher 6, Allen 8, Pieters 5; Shaqiri 6, Sobhi 5 (Crouch 69); Choupo-Moting 6. Subs Grant (g), Jese, Afellay, Martins Indi, Adam. Leicester (4-4-1-1) Schmeichel 6; Simpson 6, Morgan 7, Maguire 5, Fuchs 6; Mahrez 7, Iborra 7 (King 66), Ndidi 6, Gray 7 (Albrighton 80); Okazaki 6 (Iheanacho 58); Vardy 6. Subs Hamer (g), Dragovic, Amartey, Slimani. Referee R Madley (West Yorkshire). Replaced in 24th minute by J Moss (West Yorkshire).
Aerial assault: Peter Crouch outjumps the Leicester defence to equalise for Stoke