Cameron Jerome’s stunning late equaliser denied Southampton maximum points and took some of the sting from Tony Pulis’s fury after a contentious red card had threatened to derail Stoke’s comeback.
Pulis has spent much of the season raging against what he sees as his team’s unsympathetic treatment by referees and when Stephen Nzonzi was shown a straight red by Mark Clattenburg with 20 minutes left the Stoke manager knew he would need again to bite his tongue.
Nzonzi was dismissed after a tangle of legs with Jack Cork left him standing over his prone opponent in a way that might have suggested to Clattenburg that he had stamped on the Southampton player. Yet television replays offered no evidence of contact, nor intent. Nzonzi is the third Stoke player sent off this season and their 41 yellow cards is the worst in the Premier League.
Given that Stoke – 3-1 down after 36 minutes – had just been denied an obvious penalty at 2-3, it was a moment to push Pulis to the brink. But then came saving grace in the 90th minute from the boot of substitute Jerome, who smashed in a screamer from 25 yards to preserve a record that has seen Stoke unbeaten at home in the top flight since February.
“We’ll appeal against it,” Pulis said. “It looks like Mark thought Stephen had stamped on their player and I’ve asked him to look at it again.
“Their player’s reaction didn’t help. There was no intent from Stephen and if you look at it he steps over Cork and lands his foot between his legs, which is quite clever.
“It is so disappointing but then Cameron comes up with a fantastic effort after already having had a goal disallowed for offside. He is a top, top player who really makes a difference when he comes on and if any side was going to win the game in the closing stages it was us.”
A point was no more than Stoke deserved for their fightback yet in the first half they had looked a poor imitation of the side that beat Liverpool with style on Boxing Day.
Stoke concede the three Southampton goals inside the opening 36 minutes, which was an extraordinary turn of events, given that they had let in only four in nine home matches previously this season.
The absence through suspension of Ryan Shawcross, their captain and centre back, cannot have helped. In the first instance, as Ricky Lambert poached his eighth goal of the season after 10 minutes, they were caught out at the far post as the Southampton striker stole in behind everyone to convert Guly Do Prado’s inswinging cross.
But goals two and three for the visitors stemmed from errors that could be attributed to lack of care. First Robert Huth, the regular starter of the two centre backs, seemingly unsure Asmir Begovic would cut out Lambert’s cross, stuck out a foot, sending the ball over the goalkeeper’s head and on to the bar, allowing Jay Rodriguez to knock it in.
Then Andy Wilkinson, the left back, dec ided to intercept a Jos Hooiveld header from a Jason Puncheon cross just as Begovic readied himself to deal with it, succeeding only in diverting the ball into his own net.
This followed a fine goal by Kenwyne Jones, who backheeled Ryan Shotton’s pass past Kelvin Davis to cancel Lambert’s goal. Jones had missed a sitter moments earlier but otherwise led the Stoke line in exemplary fashion. Jose Fonte was reduced to whatever means he could employ to keep Jones at bay, including using a hand – missed by Clattenburg – to repel a 68th-minute cross from Jonathan Walters.
Moments earlier, Shawcross’s stand-in, Matthew Upson, had scored after a legitimate Fonte block on another Jones effort to signal the fightback that culminated in Jerome’s cracker. Stoke might have won had Davis not pulled off a fine save from a late Peter Crouch header.
Stoke (4-4-2): Begovic; Shotton, Huth, Upson, Wilkinson (Whitehead, 70); Kightly (Crouch, 75), Whelan, Nzonzi, Etherington (Jerone, 57); Walters, Jones.
Southampton (4-4-2): K. Davis, Yoshida, Fonte, Hooiveld, Shaw (Fox, 82); Puncheon (Richardson, 85), Schneiderlin, Cork, Guly; Rodriguez, Lambert.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg.
Man of the match: Jones (Stoke).
Match rating: 8/10