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Manchester City

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Matthew Etherington's injury-time equaliser denies Manchester City
Joe Lovejoy at Britannia Stadium - 4 years ago

The Northern Softies did not deserve to win, but seemed to have done so when Micah Richards scored his first goal for 10 months. Unfortunately for Roberto Mancini and his fairweather team, stout-hearted Stoke are never beaten until the final whistle and deservedly equalised two minutes into added time through Matthew Etherington.

Manchester City took one look at the Britannia tundra and emerged with gloves on. Tony Pulis and company are made of sterner stuff and had their sleeves rolled up, metaphorically at least. In the first half, Mancini's foreigners were in dilettante mode, going about their work as if they would rather be anywhere else. The City manager sought to excuse them on the dubious basis that it was "difficult" to play football on a less than perfect surface and against Stoke's "long ball, long ball, long ball."

It was a spurious argument. Manchester United and Tottenham have both won here, and teams with title aspirations need to overcome such obstacles if they are to be taken seriously.

The goals were a long time coming, but both were well worth waiting for.

Playing his ninth game of the season only because Pablo Zabaleta was suspended, Richards received from James Milner in the inside-right channel, where he executed the sweetest of turns to lose Danny Collins before shooting with cool precision into the far corner. The finish came as a reminder that, at 22, the former England right-back still has time on his side when it comes to adding to his 12 caps.

Stoke's equally smart equaliser was set up by Tuncay's lovely sleight of foot, the Turk's clever backheel letting in Etherington on the left, from where the winger beat Joe Hart with slide-rule precision. Long ball dross? Hardly.

Stoke were unchanged in pursuit of a fourth consecutive win, Mancini made three changes after the 4-1 victory at Fulham. Richards for Zabaleta was one, the others saw Milner back for Yaya Touré, who was injured, and Mario Balotelli restored up front. Jô, relegated to the bench, got on at the death, providing the collectors' item Jô [90].

City were palsied in the first half, and Mancini's claim that they had "played very well and deserved to win" was ludicrous. As Pulis observed: "What game was he watching?"

Thirty-five minutes had elapsed before City produced their first worthwhile strike at goal. In contrast, Stoke were constantly on the front foot and threatened regularly. Their persistence would have been rewarded had Ricardo Fuller summoned the accuracy an inviting through pass from Kenwyne Jones merited. Fuller, Etherington and Jermaine Pennant all spurned decent opportunities in the first half, prompting Pulis to say: "At the interval I was desperately disappointed not to be winning the game. When you're playing against one of the best teams in the league, you have to take your chances, and that's one thing we need to improve."

City improved in the second half, but Stoke defended with steely determination and might have taken the lead after 77 minutes when Milner blocked Jones's close-range contact on the goalline. It was City who did score four minutes later, but the Blue Moonies started singing too soon. Justice was done with Etherington's second goal of the season.

Helped by a translator, Mancini whinged nonsensically, leaving it to Pulis to supply a fitting summary.

The no-nonsense Welshman said: "You can have all the money in the world, and the top players, but a team playing against you as a team ? playing as one ? takes a lot of beating."

THE FANS' PLAYER RATINGS AND VERDICTCHRIS BALDWIN, Stoke.VitalFootball.co.uk When they scored, most people probably thought, "Well, that's it" but we kept going. It would have been a shame not to get anything out of the game because we deserved to be winning at halftime. A draw was a fair result, although if we'd taken our first half chances we might have sneaked it. Whitehead and Shawcross had good games and Pennant played really well. It was a shame he went off. I think that was one of the reasons it changed second half. I was half-expecting a goal when they scored, as they'd been pressing. Man City are a good side but it's difficult to come to Stoke - plenty of teams have proved that.

The fan's player ratings Begovic 7; Wilkinson 7 (Wilson 63 6), Huth 6, Shawcross 8, Collins 6; Pennant 7 (Tuncay 46 7), Whitehead 8, Delap 6, Etherington 7; Jones 6, Fuller 7 (Walters 75 6)

ENA PARKINSON, Observer reader The problem with following City is that it's angels and demons. You go to Fulham and destroy them, then in the first half today they were banging into each other as if they've never played together. You still don't know which City side will turn up. Look at Richards. Having scored a brilliant goal, he then became a demon with a stupid, unnecessary tackle that resulted in the free-kick that brought their goal. We really missed Zabaleta today, but Silva is a magician. Someone said to me last week, 'Let's see how he does at Stoke' and he IS tiny, but he wasn't bullied off the ball. He'd be the first one on my teamsheet every week - even before Tevez.

The fan's player ratings Hart 5; Richards 4, Toure 5, Kompany 6, Kolarov 6; Silva 7, De Jong 6, Barry 5, Milner 3 (Johnson 82 n/a); Tevez 7, Balotelli 5 (Jo 89 n/a)

To take part in the Fans' Verdict, email sport@observer.co.uk

This is not a news report and may contain views expressed by the author which are not supported by GNM.

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