Stoke City surrendered a comfortable first-half lead to allow Cardiff City to leave with three points on a wet Tuesday night in the Potteries.
There was to be no fans in attendance for the Potters, with Stoke-on-Trent still under Tier 3 restrictions for the foreseeable future. That had been no problem for Stoke so far this season though, with Michael O’Neill’s men sitting comfortably in fifth place heading into the game. They were in good form as well, with three consecutive clean sheets and just one defeat in their last six.
O’Neill was once again contending with having a number of key players on the sidelines, as 10 first teamers were ruled out through injury going into the game. That meant two forced changes from a 1-0 win against Middlesbrough, with Josh Tymon and Tommy Smith replacing Sam Clucas and Danny Batth.
Neil Harris’ Cardiff side came into the game in great form and great spirits, as their poor start to the season had been amended by three wins in their last three games. Harris made no changes from a vital 1-0 away win at Watford, clearly not seeing the need to switch his team after a great result.
The game was not destined to be a glamorous affair, as the visitors set up looking to exploit the Potters in the air and with trademark physicality.
The first real chance of the game came for Stoke on nine minutes as the Cardiff defence allowed Tyrese Campbell to run at them, with the striker fizzing a shot just wide of Smithies’ right-hand post after the goal was gaping for him.
Another Stoke counter resulted with Campbell on the ground in the box after Morrison had slid in, but referee Harrington deemed the tackle fair and played on.
With the game still relatively quiet, Harry Wilson was next to fire a shot off target, with his powerful strike sailing numerous yards over Bursik’s crossbar.
The first booking of the game went to Vaulks after 25 minutes for a cynical foul on Powell in the middle of the park.
It was from the resulting free kick that the Potters found a breakthrough. A poor cross was not dealt with by the Bluebirds’ defence, with Campbell allowed to pick it up again on the edge of the box. The young prospect dribbled back into the danger zone and fired a low cross into the six-yard box, finding veteran Cardiff defender Sean Morrison who was on hand to turn the ball into his own net. It was a valuable lead for Stoke on 26 minutes, and one they would not look to give up quickly.
It was a lead the Potters will have felt was deserved, but the visitors would be understandably aggrieved in the way they had gone behind.
It then took some good defending from Bacuna to make sure that McClean was not left with a one-on-one with keeper Smithies, after another quiet period in the game.
Most chances of the game were going to the hosts, as the visitors struggled to break down a typically resolute Stoke defence.
It remained a scrappy affair up to the interval, and the referee eventually called the curtain on a poor first half showing from both teams, with little to talk (and write) about.
It was the Potters that had a lead to hold onto heading into the second period, and they had restricted the visitors to just one shot in the first-half.
Neil Harris would certainly hope for more from his attacking players to try to unlock the strong Stoke rear-guard.
Half Time: Stoke City 1-0 Cardiff City
The hosts opened up the chances in the second half, and it was ever so close for Welsh international James Chester from a corner. It was McClean to whip in an out-swinging ball, with Chester meeting the ball and cannoning a header off the Cardiff crossbar. It would have been the centre-back’s first goal for the Potters since his arrival on loan in January.
Stoke’s injury woes were set to continue just seven minutes into the half, and it was the one player that Potters fans did not want to see trudge off the pitch. Tyrese Campbell was the man to suffer a clash of knees with a Cardiff player, and he hobbled off with Sam Vokes on to replace him.
Potters fans will hope it is not a long term layoff for the attacker, with the 20 year-old arguably being Stoke’s player of the season so far.
Some great play from the hosts led to Nick Powell weaving his way into the box and being impeded by defender Morrison. The referee judged the tackle to be a foul in the box, and duly pointed to the spot to give Stoke the chance to double their lead. It was not turning out to be the veteran centre-back’s night in Staffordshire.
Sam Vokes was the man to step up just minutes after coming on, but his spot kick was comfortably saved by Alex Smithies, as the keeper guessed the right way and parried the Welshman’s shot away. It was a huge missed chance for the hosts, as another goal would have likely wrapped up the game with Cardiff looking very unlikely to score.
With the next chance of the game came the next goal of the game, and it was a leveller for the visitors after 65 minutes. A floated ball into the box found sub Robert Glatzel unmarked at the back post, and he was the glad recipient of a Christmas gift from the Potters defence. The German striker took one touch to bring it down, and dispatched the ball past Bursik with aplomb for just his second goal of the campaign.
Cardiff suddenly looked a different team going forward and in defence, with the visitors looking to take the incentive and capitalise on the momentum they had from the penalty miss and the following goal.
Their pressure paid off just ten minutes after the first goal, and the Welsh side took the lead from another cross into the box. A deep corner from the Cardiff right floated to the back post and found the man of the moment, Sean Morrison. The captain certainly had his scoring instincts about him, and powered a header into the net, via the crossbar, past Bursik to put his side in front.
It had suddenly turned into a night to remember for skipper Morrison, who looked to have condemned his team to defeat just twenty minutes earlier.
The game began to peter out, and the hosts looked completely devoid of any structured play in midfield or attack, and didn’t look like scoring if the game was to be played for another 90 minutes.
It was a far cry from how they had been cruising to victory on the hour mark, and a disappointing capitulation to say the least.
With the 95 minutes all but up, the full time whistle was blown. The visitors had the three points that they had come to the Potteries for, but points they looked to be nowhere near after Nick Powell had won a penalty on 58 minutes.
Full Time: Stoke City 1-2 Cardiff City
It was a crushing defeat for Stoke at the bet365 stadium, as they had looked set for a third successive victory, and third place in the league.
They defended valiantly all game, and would have likely had it won had Sam Vokes dispatched his penalty.
It was not to be for the Potters, and to Cardiff’s credit, they were able to pick their heads up and find a way to unlock the Stoke defence by grabbing two goals off the back of some shoddy rearguard action from the hosts.
It was a second half so unlike Stoke this season, but the injury to Tyrese Campbell was no doubt the turning point in the game. Michael O’Neill changed system and his team ultimately looked toothless up front for the remainder of the game, especially after the penalty miss.
Neil Harris will be happy with his team’s victory, and especially happy with his own performance, as his inspired substitute Robert Glatzel came on and changed the game massively in his teams favour.
The result leaves Stoke in sixth place, with Derby up next at Pride Park on Saturday. Cardiff climb to ninth in the league, and go into their fiercely contested South Wales Derby against Swansea with four wins in four.