A surfeit of draws cost Mark Hughes his job as manager of Manchester City, but Roberto Mancini should have been grateful for the one he scraped against Stoke last night because his team would have been deservedly beaten by 10 men but for a contentious refereeing decision deep in stoppage time.
Stoke, depleted from the 53rd minute by the dismissal of their captain, Abdoulaye Faye, and nursing a sense of grievance that Patrick Vieira had not been sent off in the opening minutes of the match, might have been forgiven for settling for a point after Gareth Barry struck with five minutes remaining to nullify a goal by former City reserve Glenn Whelan.
That is not the Stoke way. Following the umpteenth Rory Delap long throw in the fifth minute of added time, Ryan Shawcross soared above Shay Given to power a header into City's net. It was a dead ringer for the goal Ricardo Fuller scored at Eastlands when the sides drew 1-1 in the FA Cup on Saturday. Only one Staffordshire man inside the Britannia Stadium had spotted an illegal challenge on the City goalkeeper. Unfortunately for Stoke, the odd man out was the referee, Alan Wiley.
Tony Pulis, the Stoke manager, conceded Faye's red card, for a professional foul on Emmanuel Adebayor, was a "good decision". The magnanimity ended there. Pulis justifiably hailed Shawcross' effort as a valid goal, suggesting the reaction of City defender Kolo Touré – who was "on his knees with his head in his hands because he knew it was a goal", indicated Given had not been impeded.
Pulis also condemned Mr Wiley for failing to show "parity" to Stoke. While he refused to name Vieira, he clearly had in mind the kick Mancini's new signing aimed at Whelan's groin after being fouled by the Irish midfelder, a retaliation unpunished by even a yellow card. Earlier this season, Stoke's Robert Huth was suspended for three games after TV replays highlighted a punch on West Ham's Matthew Upson which the officials had missed, and Pulis said: "I hope the ref will show this one to the FA."
Mancini pleaded the Arsène Wenger defence over Stoke's disallowed "winner", claiming he did not see it, but he was forthright about the shortcomings in City's display. "When you play 11 against 10 for 40 minutes, you must play better," the Italian said pointedly. His team badly missed the industry, ball retention and goal threat of Carlos Tevez, who he hopes will be back from compassionate leave to face Liverpool on Sunday. Yet there was a lack of cohesion and spirit about City and Stoke dominated the first half during which, Mancini noted wryly, "the ball was always in the air".
City were reduced to attacking on the break and in one such break-out, shortly after half-time, Adebayor raced on to a pass by Nigel De Jong. Faye first pulled his shirt and then took him down from behind. The linesman's raised flag indicated Faye was the last defender and a consultation led to the Stoke centre-back being banished.
Few crowds do indignation like Stoke's and there were vehement appeals for a penalty midway through the second half when Fuller appeared to be wrestled over by Barry. But Stoke, and the ubiquitous Whelan, had their reward when a comedy clearance by Adam Johnson invited a 30-yard drive which the sprawling Given somehow allowed to evade his grasp.
City drew level when Barry, having steered the ball against the post following a flick-on by Adebayor, hooked in the loose ball from a prone position. Stoke, though, will go into the next installment in their trilogy, in the FA Cup next Wednesday, feeling they hold the moral advantage and have the measure of Mancini's increasingly unconvincing team.
Stoke City (4-4-2): Sorensen; Huth, Shawcross, Abdoulaye Faye, Higginbotham (Collins, h-t); Lawrence (Diao, 60), Whitehead, Whelan, Delap; Sidibe, Fuller (Beattie, 80). Substitutes not used: Begovic (gk), Kitson, Pugh, Tuncay.
Manchester City (4-4-2): Given; Richards (Zabaleta, 81), Touré, Lescott, Garrido (Wright-Phillips, 60); De Jong, Vieira, Barry, Johnson (Petro,v 86); Santa Cruz, Adebayor. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Bridge, Onuoha, Ireland.
Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).
Booked: Manchester City Viera, Barry, De Jong; Stoke City Whelan, Fuller, Diao.
Sent-off: Stoke City Faye.