City: Hart, Maicon, Kompany (c), Lescott, Clichy, Garcia, Y Toure, Nasri, Sinclair (Silva 74), Balotelli (Dzeko 90), Tevez (Barry 63)
Unused: Wright, Kolarov, K Toure, Rodwell
Goals: Garcia (35)
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Man of the Match: Javi Garcia
The early pressure came from the visiting side, as Tevez unleashed a shot at goal that curled just around the post. There was confusion, as City believed they should have had a free kick when the referee had played advantage, but it was eventually decided a corner was the correct outcome. Stoke were able to get the ball away, as Begovic claimed under pressure.
But it wasn’t long until Stoke responded and they did so with a goal. City couldn’t clear their lines from a corner and it broke to Crouch on the penalty spot. He stumbled his way through the crowded box and through the challenges from Garcia and Lescott to slide it past Hart.
With 21 minutes gone, the visitors should have been level. Tevez picked up the ball in midfield from Toure and slid a cute pass into the box for Balotelli. A neat turn by the Italian gave him the chance to shoot cleanly at goal. However, his effort on his left foot was poor and he whipped it straight over the bar.
Ten minutes before the break, City had pulled themselves level. Balotelli turned inside the Stoke half and earned a free-kick on the left flank. Tevez curled the ball into the box between the goalkeeper and the line of defence, where Javi Garcia connected to it and nodded it into the back of the net. City’s pressure had paid off. A minute later, Maicon tried a volley coming into the box on the right hand side, but Begovic was able to spoon it behind.
City ended the half stronger: Begovic was twice in action to collect the ball as first Kompany crossed to the middle as it broke to him from a corner, before Yaya Toure smashed an effort right at the goalkeeper from well outside the box. Tevez was lurking, but there were no rebounds. The Argentine had an effort himself on the left side of the box, but again it was right down the goalkeeper’s throat.
The start of the second half, though, belonged to the hosts. City were struggling to cope under pressure from Stoke and Lescott didn’t get tight enough to Crouch as the former England international hit a shot at goal. Hart, though, was able to gather it and take control of the situation. Javi Garcia picked up a yellow card for a hefty challenge on Kightly.
Crouch should have done better as he won a header at the back post, but Hart was in the right place to collect it and set City away on the attack. From it, Sinclair found Yaya Toure in the box and he shot low, but Begovic blocked his one-on-one behind for a corner. Maicon’s flag kick was well cleared. City were still on the back foot.
A Gareth Barry cross then found its way to Yaya Toure in the box, but it was difficult for him to control. Instead of trying to trap it, he laid it off for Nasri to shoot, but the Frenchman’s effort was blocked en route to goal. City were slowly getting themselves a foothold into the half. A crossfield pass aimed towards Maicon was well cut out and the header back to Begovic had just enough to stop the full back intercepting.
City were beginning to keep the ball well as the game entered the final ten minutes, but it was the final pass that was proving a problem. Maicon tried to return a one-two with David Silva, but his pass was overhit and ran behind, rather than putting the Spaniard through. This was after Garcia tried an effort at goal from long range, but it was blocked by the home side’s defence.
With minutes to play, Nasri smashed a shot at goal from the edge of the box and it forced Begovic into a good save. He pushed the ball back into the middle, but there was nobody there to capitalise for the visitors. City also had a shout for a penalty turned down, as Barry went down in the box.
Yaya Toure picked out Clichy with a fantastic ball over the top and the full back forced a corner with his pull back on the volley. From that, Garcia rose higher than anybody and nodded at goal, but Begovic got down superbly to block and hold it.
Dzeko almost won it for City as he was played through over the top – he lobbed it over the onrushing Begovic and it looked destined for the net, but Shawcross didn’t give it up and he toe-poked if off the line with just 30 seconds left to play. City had themselves a point and, overall, probably just shaded it, but it’s not to be sniffed at, given the blues’ recent record at the Britannia Stadium.