Etherington strikes late but says City proved a point
Stoke City 1
Man City 1
The sight of a shivering Mario Balotelli, arms folded to protect against the cold, half-heartedly fulfilling his obligations during the pre-match handshake did not bode well for Manchester City's sub-zero examination in Stoke.
Balotelli, having served a three-match suspension for violent conduct, appeared anything but ready for a return to action in a 'snood' and gloves.
Yet if anything highlighted City's evolution under Roberto Mancini, it was the manner in which they embraced the challenge posed by the elements and Tony Pulis' team during a fixture that, until recently, would have seen the men from Eastlands beaten before they had even emerged from the tunnel.
Balotelli might not have fancied it, but City almost emerged from the Britannia with a victory thanks to the committed displays of James Milner, Carlos Tevez and, particularly, Spanish winger David Silva.
The 4-1 victory at Fulham last weekend was a corner-turning result for Mancini's team, but this point earned in the Potteries carries equal significance. It proves that City can no longer be bullied by physical opponents in a hostile environment.
Matthew Etherington's injury-time equaliser, after receiving Tuncay's back-heeled pass, denied City the victory that Micah Richards' 81st-minute opener looked to have secured, but Etherington admitted that the visitors proved a point.
"You have to make it hard for them to play and that's what we did," said Etherington. "But it said a lot about them that they played the way they did.
"It was freezing cold and some people might have thought they wouldn't have fancied it, but they stood up to the task. They will be a top-four side this season."
City resisted heavy first-half pressure from Stoke before taking the lead when Richards dummied full-back Danny Collins before beating Asmir Begovic with a powerful angled shot.
At times, their forward play was mesmerising, with Silva and Tevez tormenting the hosts. Balotelli, while showing the odd flash of his mercurial talent, generally looked like a little boy lost.
Mancini's post-match complaint that Stoke only deployed "long balls and long throw-ins" was needless and unfair on Pulis' team, who are more than the one-dimensional outfit they are often portrayed as.
Few teams emerge from the Britannia unscathed, but Richards insists that City's lofty ambitions mean draws at Stoke are no longer enough. "This is probably the sort of place we need to win at if we're serious about winning the title,'' he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)