Javi Garcia salvages a point but Manchester City still cannot sink Stoke
Stoke City 1 Manchester City 1: Mancini frustrated as his City side are held after Crouch appears to handle in scoring opener
Saturday 15 September 2012
So there are some things that money can't buy after all. Manchester City, the world's biggest-spending football club, still cannot win at Stoke.
On a day that Roberto Mancini gave debuts to another £27 million worth of talent in Spanish midfielder Javi Garcia, Brazil right-back Maicon and winger Scott Sinclair – all recruited on transfer deadline day – City were left still searching for a first victory here since Gerard Wiekens, a £500,000 Dutch journeyman, secured a 1-0 win in a third-tier fixture in December 1998.
With a Champions' League trip to Real Madrid looming on Tuesday, it is fair to say life has changed beyond the wildest dreams of any City fan since then but Stoke can be trusted to bring them down to earth.
Since returning to the Premier League in 2008, Stoke have earned a win and now four successive 1-1 draws with City on this ground although yesterday's result owed a little to luck with referee Mark Clattenburg failing to spot Peter Crouch handle the ball before he struck the opening goal.
Crouch has the height of a basketball player and an unhappy Mancini referred to that sport when asked about the Stoke forward's 15th-minute effort. "If you want to start with the first goal you should talk about NBA or basketball, not football," said the Italian. "I didn't see it from the bench but I saw all my players talk with the referee. The referee was behind Crouch; this is incredible."
It was not the only moment when City were out of luck. After Garcia had nodded them level before the break, the Spaniard almost won the game in the last minute with a header that Asmir Begovic palmed against a post; there was still time after that for substitute Edin Dzecko to lob Begovic but see Ryan Shawcross deny him with an outstanding goalline clearance.
"We know it is difficult here, not only for us but for all the teams," Mancini added. "We had two incredible chances at the end of the game and we were unlucky."
Behind closed doors, though, it is likely Mancini will ask questions of his team's defending. Their lack of assurance at the back meant it was not hard to see why the champions have shipped eight goals in five matches this term.
Crouch's goal came after Jonathan Walters hooked Charlie Adam's corner back into the six-yard box and Crouch brought the ball down on his chest before turning and shooting past Joe Hart. TV replays showed the striker used his hand at least once but the speed with which Crouch manoeuvred those long gangly legs into a shooting position allowed time for a challenge, and neither Garcia nor Vincent Kompany was up to the task.
Stoke now had an important foothold. "It is lovely for us to have a decision, a smaller club having a decision against a bigger club," said Tony Pulis, the Stoke manager.
Only Newcastle among last season's top eight clubs won at the Britannia but Stoke had to work for their fourth successive draw in this fledgling campaign. Carlos Tevez whistled a deflected shot narrowly wide at 0-0 and Mario Balotelli, back after laser surgery on an eye problem, threatened an equaliser with a shot over the crossbar.
Instead it was Garcia, the £15.8m recruit from Benfica, who got City on the scoresheet after 35 minutes.
Garcia had put in one tackle on Glenn Whelan which suggests the rough stuff will not daunt him; now he got his head to Tevez's free-kick from the left flank and flashed the ball past Begovic to ensure a memorable start in City blue.
Although a defensive midfielder hardly noted for his goals, Garcia also scored with his head in Benfica's Champions' League quarter-final defeat at Chelsea in April and he will hope to have done enough to warrant inclusion on Tuesday at Madrid, the club where he spent seven years before joining Benfica in 2009.
Mancini, who said Sergio Aguero should be available at the Bernabeu, sounded impressed as he praised both Garcia and fellow debutant Maicon. "Garcia scored an important goal and had another chance. He played well, like Maicon. It was the first game for them and both players gave a good performance." Maicon, always eager to get forward, went close himself shortly after the equaliser with a low volley that Begovic saved.
Stoke had their own new boy on show in Steven N'Zonzi, a deadline-day signing from Blackburn, who did well alongside the impressive Adam and Whelan in the centre of their midfield. As for Michael Owen, three sides of the Britannia Stadium rose as one to applaud the former England striker when he stepped off the bench to warm up on the hour. "Michael Owen finally signs for a big club" was the droll headline in the Oatcake fanzine but the home fans had to wait until the 90th minute for his appearance. "He needs a lot more football," said Pulis.
Owen famously came off the bench to score an injury-time winner against City three years ago; instead it was so nearly the other way round but Stoke had earned their luck.
Stoke City (4-5-1): Begovic; Wilkinson, Shawcross, Huth, Wilson; Walters, Whelan, N'Zonzi, Adam (Cameron, 84), Kightly (Etherington, 69); Crouch (Owen, 90).
Manchester City (4-4-2): Hart; Maicon, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy; Nasri, Y Toure, Garcia, Sinclair (Silva, 74); Balotelli (Dzeko, 90), Tevez (Barry, 63).
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Man of the match: Garcia (Manchester City)
Match rating: 7/10
Half-time: 1-1 Att: 27,101
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