This was Stoke City, but not as we know them. It was not the side with the supposedly impenetrable rearguard or the team that had struggled to score. On a day of remarkable drama, Stoke confounded the stereotypes that surround them, the supposed long-throw specialists scoring after a short throw, and salvaged a point in improbable fashion.
For 45 minutes, as Tony Pulis admitted, they were unconvincing impostors. Then, belatedly, they resembled their old selves with their capacity to terrorise opponents with an unrelenting onslaught and in their enduring ability to avoid defeat. They possess the Premier League's longest unbeaten home record and, when it seemed Southampton would become the first visitors to emerge victorious since Sunderland in February, Cameron Jerome produced a stunning goal to deny them another two points.
The substitute dispatched a 30-yard shot of perfect power and precision past Kelvin Davis. "A fantastic effort," said Pulis. Jerome is scarcely prolific but he was a fitting finisher. If, given the low-scoring games this season, the Britannia had seemed a strikers' graveyard, four scored, two for each side. Indeed, only three opposing players had found the Stoke net here before Rickie Lambert and Jay Rodriguez joined the select band of Javi García, Papiss Cissé and Steven Gerrard. Lambert volleyed in Guly do Prado's deep cross before Robert Huth diverted the scorer's centre on to his own bar and Rodriguez converted the rebound.
The lack of communication and Stoke's uncharacteristic uncertainty at the back was epitomised, along with the ubiquity of Lambert, by Southampton's third goal; when he met Jason Puncheon's cross with a towering header in the box, Andy Wilkinson sliced his attempted clearance into his own net. Shorn of Ryan Shawcross and Geoff Cameron, both suspended, a usually frugal back four showed unusual generosity. "We were shocking in the first half," said Pulis, arguing his players were still congratulating themselves for their Boxing Day demolition of Liverpool. "We didn't deserve anything."
His disappointment was matched by Nigel Adkins's delight. "You look at our first-half performance and it was top drawer," he said. "Lambert and Rodriguez were outstanding together. Stoke have conceded four at home this season and then we have scored three."
Their problem was that they also conceded three. Their first equaliser came from Kenwyne Jones who, after spurning a simpler opportunity, supplied a deft, flicked finish to Ryan Shotton's cross following the full-back's five-yard throw. That showcased Stoke's blend of force and finesse. Sometimes, by their own admission, they are less subtle. "In the second half we threw everything at them," Pulis said. He finished with four strikers among 10 men.
The turning point, however, occurred in the Stoke box. Rodriguez should have scored a second; after Asmir Begovic saved his shot, Do Prado ought to have converted an open goal. "That could have put us 4-1 up," said Adkins.
Instead, it swiftly became 3-2. Matthew Upson slid in to score after Jones's shot was blocked. The striker was then denied a spot-kick when his header was blocked, volleyball-style, by José Fonte. "It did look suspiciously as though it has hit José's arm," said an honest Adkins. Stoke's frustrations were compounded when Steven Nzonzi's foul on Jack Cork somehow resulted in straight red card from the referee Mark Clattenburg. "Tony was spitting feathers," said Adkins.
Pulis said: "The lad certainly doesn't stamp on the player. I've spoken to Mark and Mark is going to have a look at it."
An appeal will surely succeed, sparing Nzonzi a three-match ban. But, though depleted, Stoke were not defeated. They acquired an irresistible momentum and, while Jerome had a goal disallowed when he was rightly ruled offside, they was no denying him from long range.
Keen to stress the positives, Adkins branded it "a fantastic point". That is a moot point but a fantastic game? Definitely.