Crouch rises to the res­cue as South­gate looks on

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Sport | Football - John Percy at Bet365 Sta­dium

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

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