Stoke City 0 Watford 0: Lee's string of saves help steady faltering Watford

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The Independent Online

Goalkeeper Richard Lee atoned for his costly howler at Barnsley last month by saving a point for the stuttering Championship leaders Watford as Stoke City threatened Aidy Booth-royd's team with a fourth defeat in five matches.

Lee handed Barnsley the points at Oakwell when he punched a cross into his own net but was Watford's man of the match yesterday, pulling off three second-half saves to deny Tony Pulis's team, who had been bidding to move into fourth place in the table.

Standing in for the injured Mart Poom, who aggravated a hamstring problem as Watford stopped a run of defeats by coming from behind to beat Colchester last week, Lee's shot-stopping talents were hardly tested in a poor first half in which neither side advertised any obvious promotion credentials.

But when Stoke stepped up their efforts after the break Lee was equal to the challenge, first denying Ricardo Fuller's full-blooded effort then twisting in mid-jump to keep out a deflected shot from Richard Cresswell. Fuller looked certain to score two minutes from time with only Lee to beat but again it was the goalkeeper who came out on top.

It spelt more frustration for Jamaican international Fuller, who has failed to score in nine matches since finding the target twice against Sheffield Wednesday in mid-October.

"You would have backed him to score at the end but he is going through one of those runs that strikers have from time to time," Pulis said. "On another day he would have had a hat-trick and we are disappointed not to have won the game."

Boothroyd, by contrast, was happy to have gone home with a point after anticipating "a battering" from Stoke's tall, powerful front men, who posed a constant test for his centre backs Jay deMerit and Matt Jackson, the latter drafted in after Danny Shittu was ruled out through injury.

"I thought Jackson in particular was outstanding because it was a difficult game for him to come into," Boothroyd said. "It was good to get a clean sheet because we had not had one for a while."

Stoke might have had a penalty when Liam Lawrence appeared to be tripped by Jobi McAnuff but in a first-half of little merit a dangerous far-post cross from Watford's Jordan Stewart represented a rare moment of quality and even then Marlon King could not find a good enough finish.

Despite yesterday's frustration, Pulis has his team well placed to claim a play-off berth at least although he warned that he will need to improve his squad in the January transfer window. "I would say there are 10 or 11 other teams in the division with greater strength in depth than ours," he said.

Stoke City (4-4-2): Simonsen; Wright (Buxton 90), Cort, Zakuani, Dickinson; Lawrence, Pugh, Delap, Cresswell; Sidibe (Parkin 73), Fuller. Substitutes not used: Hoult (gk), Pericard, Pulis.

Watford (4-4-2): Lee; Doyley, De Merit, Jackson, Stewart; Smith (Ellington 77), Williamson, O'Toole, McAnuff; Priskin (Francis 89), King. Substitutes not used: Loach (gk), Mariappa, Ainsworth.

Referee: C Webster (Tyne and Wear).

Booked: Stoke: Delap, Cresswell. Watford: Doyley, Williamson.

Attendance: 15, 516.

Man of the match: Lee.

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