The Britannia Stadium, in the view of Manchester City's Micah Richards, is the kind of hostile territory Roberto Mancini's side must conquer to prove their credentials as contenders for the Premier League crown. Given their failure to achieve that aim on Saturday, it may be that the top-four spot the defender cited as the big spenders' target is the limit of their potential.
They entered stoppage time leading through Richards' superb goal, yet Matthew Etherington's equally striking riposte was the least Stoke deserved, leaving manager Mancini frustrated on his 46th birthday. His unlikely scorer, meanwhile, was torn between savouring a useful point against tough opponents and ruing an opportunity spurned.
"It was freezing out there and people thought we wouldn't fancy it," Richards said, tacitly acknowledging the suspicion, justified on first-half evidence, that players such as Mario Balotelli and David Silva might go missing on a bitter day in the Potteries. "But we were up for it and defended really well, so it was devastating to concede. I suppose a draw was fair, but we feel we've proved a few people wrong. Last time here, we couldn't beat them when they were down to 10 men.
"It's probably the sort of place we need to come and win at if we're serious about winning the title," admitted Richards. "They're a very strong side and give you a real test, but having got ourselves into that position we should've finished the job off. If we approach every game like this, we can definitely get our top-four place. That's our aim and we're still on course."
Their improved second-half display culminated in Richards' goal, driven in after he dummied Danny Collins. "Adam Johnson and Carlos Tevez do it in training every day," he said. "I picked it up off them and wanted to show I can do it too."
Unhappily for the right-back, the player he was tasked with policing rewarded Stoke manager Tony Pulis' enterprise in playing two strikers and two wingers – Etherington firing past Joe Hart after Tuncay's audacious back-heeled pass.
Scorers: Stoke Etherington 90. Man City Richards 81. Subs: Stoke Tuncay (Pennant, h-t), Wilson (Wilkinson, 63), Walters (Fuller, 75). Unused Sorensen (gk), Higginbotham, Whelan, Gudjohnsen. Man City A Johnson (Milner, 82), Jo (Balotelli, 90). Unused Given (gk), Boateng, Lescott, Wright-Phillips, Vieira. Booked: Stoke Delap, Wilson. Man City Richards, Tevez.
Man of the match Etherington.
Match rating 7/10. Possession Stoke 47% Man City 53%. Shots on target Stoke 9 Man City 5.
Referee P Walton (Northants) Att 27,405.