For the second game running, Carlos Vela salvaged a point for relegation-threatened West Bromwich Albion when all seemed lost. The on-loan Arsenal striker again came off the bench to deny Stoke their customary win over Albion – and only the agility and anticipation of the goalkeeper Asmir Begovic prevented him breaking one of the modern game's sorriest sequences in stoppage time.
Stoke's goal-making long-throw machine, Rory Delap, had earlier turned goal-scorer after converting a set-piece himself early in the second half. Vela's late riposte, from what was an offside position, lifted Albion out of the bottom three but could not stop Tony Pulis's side from stretching Albion's run against them to 27 matches with only one win.
Roy Hodgson, back at the scene of one of his darkest days after Liverpool's capitulation here at the Britannia Stadium in November, cut a relaxed figure as he spoke of a "semi-victory". Not everyone in the Albion camp shared his demeanour, however. Jonas Olsson, the Swedish centre-back, smashed his fist into the glass covering a picture of Stoke's stadium as the players headed back into the dressing-rooms.
Hodgson tried to laugh off the incident, calling it "a slight contretemps". Olsson's behaviour, said Albion's new head coach, stemmed from an opponent declining a handshake on the final whistle. "A team that plays with so much heart and emotion will surely forgive us for breaking a picture," he added. "We'll happily pay for it." Pulis was less amused, stating: "It's very disappointing when that happens."
Pulis and Hodgson also viewed Vela's equaliser rather differently. For the Stoke manager it was the result of flawed work by the assistant referee. "It was a poor decision because he was looking straight at it. Asmir made some great saves, and West Brom looked like they might have won it in the last 20 minutes, but they got a goal they should never have got." Hodgson said of the assistant's aberration: "Perhaps we did get some good fortune. But you have to work for 90 to 95 minutes to earn it."
Albion deserved their point, which vindicated Hodgson's decision to ring the changes following the point that Vela scraped against Wolverhampton a week last Sunday. Scott Carson, restored in goal after Boaz Myhill's run of six matches, performed soundly, while Abdoulaye Meite, playing his first league game in 10 months, stood up well to the physical challenge posed by John Carew and Kenwyne Jones.
Having reached the half-hour mark without conceding, Albion finally ventured forward when Graham Dorrans wriggled through to put in a shot which Begovic dived to smother. Jermaine Pennant, who had already brought a diving stop from Carson with a long-range free-kick, curled another against the angle of post and bar before half-time.
Albion's self-styled purists looked determined to grind out a result until Carson's goal fell with potentially demoralising ease. Pennant's corner found Delap inside the six-yard area, and although policed by two players, the midfielder was able to score with an unchallenged header. The goal took the total Albion have conceded from set-pieces to a staggering 25, the division's worst record.
Dorrans, the marker most at fault, almost made amends with a header from a Steven Reid cross deflected off Ryan Shawcross, only for Begovic to save with the trailing leg. The keeper again excelled to beat out Chris Brunt's swerving drive, and when a Fortune header slapped the top of the bar following another Reid delivery, Albion must have feared a familiar outcome. Vela's opportunism, and a linesman's largesse, ensured a twist in a well-worn plot.
Stoke City (4-4-2): Begovic; Wilson, Shawcross, Huth, Pugh; Pennant (Whelan, 78), Whitehead, Delap, Walters; Jones (Fuller, 83), Carew (Etherington, 65). Substitutes not used Sorensen (gk), Higginbotham, Collins, Wilkinson.
West Bromwich Albion (4-1-4-1): Carson; Reid, Meite, Olsson, Shorey; Mulumbu (Tchoyi, 73); Brunt, Scharner, Dorrans, Thomas (Vela, 82); Fortune (Odemwingie, 73). Substitutes not used Myhill (gk), Morrison, Tamas, Jara.
Referee M Oliver (Northumberland).