Saturday 18 August 2018

Butland drops rare clanger to keep frustrated Stoke in relegation places

Leicester City 1 Stoke City 1

Leicester City's Kelechi Iheanacho in action with Stoke City's Charlie Adam. Photo: Andrew Boyers/Action Images
Leicester City's Kelechi Iheanacho in action with Stoke City's Charlie Adam. Photo: Andrew Boyers/Action Images

Paul Doyle

This was a fair result but a deeply frustrating one for Stoke, who glimpsed a precious three points before an uncharacteristic late blunder by Jack Butland, who diverted a cross by Marc Albrighton into his own goal. Until then, thanks to a beautiful goal by Xherdan Shaqiri, Stoke had been on course for a win that would have taken them out of the bottom three.

Butland partly redeemed himself by going on to make saves that ensured Paul Lambert's side at least got away with a point but Stoke's predicament is such that mistakes seem to carry more weight.

Until the goalkeeper's error in the 70th minute, Stoke seemed a good bet to win on a bad day for Leicester. Shaqiri's goal had illuminated a dismal spectacle, with the first half, in particular, marred by Leicester's sloppy passing and wasted chances - and not even goalscoring chances, just chances to create chances. What meagre flair that was on show came initially from Riyad Mahrez, who seemed determined to prove his worth on his first Premier League start since last month's thwarted transfer to Manchester City.

Perhaps, indeed, he was a trifle too determined to catch the eye, as a couple of times he attempted to score from long range when a pass might have provided a team-mate with a clearer opening. Still, the Algeria international looked the most likely source of danger, and also of entertainment, a point he demonstrated midway through the first period with an outrageous dummy that sent two Stoke players racing off in the wrong direction like confused Olympians. But really that, like the series of first-half corners won by Leicester, amounted to fluff.

Stoke City goalkeeper Jack Butland scores an own goal at the King Power Stadium yesterday. Photo: Andrew Boyers/Action Images
Stoke City goalkeeper Jack Butland scores an own goal at the King Power Stadium yesterday. Photo: Andrew Boyers/Action Images

Shaqiri, on the other hand, made sure that his flourish mattered. After receiving a sharp pass from Joe Allen, who had dispossessed Wilfried Ndidi near the touchline, the Swiss scurried infield and curled a low shot beyond Kasper Schmeichel from 25 yards. It was his third goal in three games and evidence that Shaqiri is coming to the fore at his club's time of need.

Stoke have conceded more goals than any other team in the Premier League this season but in the first half here their defence was seldom in peril. That was partly because of the protection provided by a sturdy midfield trio of Allen, Badou Ndiaye and Geoff Cameron, but also because of the failings of Leicester, who did not test a back four in which Kostas Staylidis was making his first start since his arrival from Augsburg in January and Bruno Martins Indi was returning from a long injury lay-off and had to depart in the second period.

On the one occasion in the first half that Jamie Vardy was given a ball that enabled him to run beyond the visiting defence, the striker let Mahrez's pass run away from him instead. Leicester may not need points as urgently as Stoke but surely they had to improve in the second period?

Or maybe not. The hosts could have fallen further behind in the 54th minute when the ever-dynamic Allen beat Matty James to a shanked clearance by Schmeichel. The Welshman again gave Shaqiri rapid service and he tried to fire into the net from 35 yards before Schmeichel got back to his station in goal, but the shot bounced just past the post.

Then Leicester did improve, stimulated by a double substitution by Claude Puel and a switch to 4-4-2. But it still took a blunder by Butland to bring them level. Marc Albrighton fizzed a cross into the six-yard box from the right and, even though Vardy lunged to try to meet it, Butland should have clasped it safely - but instead he allowed the ball to bounce off him and into the net. Lambert and several Stoke players put their heads in their hands, barely able to believe the goalkeeper's uncharacteristic and terribly-timed gaffe.

All Butland could do was get up and get better. He would have to, as Leicester sensed the three points were there for the taking. Mahrez tried to claim them in the 78th minute, unleashing a terrific shot. Butland flung himself to his right and tipped it away. Harry Maguire smashed a shot against the outside of the post in the ensuing chaos. Stoke were clinging on.

Stoke City manager Paul Lambert with Xherdan Shaqiri after the match. Photo: Darren Staples/Reuters
Stoke City manager Paul Lambert with Xherdan Shaqiri after the match. Photo: Darren Staples/Reuters

In the dying minutes Kurt Zouma made an excellent block to prevent Mahrez from having the last word, and then James saw a header rebound out of a post.

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