Six goals were shared at the Britannia Stadium as Stoke dramatically clung on to hold their unbeaten home record against a valiant Saints.
The visitors stunned Tony Pulis’s men by taking a 3-1 half time lead as the team who had only conceded four goals on home soil prior to the game found themselves up against it thanks to a hard working display from Nigel Adkins’ side.
Rickie Lambert powered Southampton into a tenth minute lead when he turned home Guly’s cross inside the area, and although former Saints man Kenwyne Jones cheekily restored parity soon after, the visitors went on to strike twice more before the break with Jay Rodriguez likely to claim both although the latter may go down as Andy Wilkinson own goal.
Despite a strong start to the second half from Adkins’ men, a dramatic few minutes that saw Matt Upson score and Stoke become a man light when Steven Nzonzi was red carded, provided a cauldron of atmosphere that the hosts eventually succeeded in taking advantage of when substitute Cameron Jerome equalised for 3-3 with as good a finish as you’ll see all season from 25 yards out.
Having had Stoke on the rails by becoming the first away side to score more than one on their patch this campaign, Saints may feel disappointed to come away with a draw, but another point away from home will be welcomed back to the south coast.
Stoke: Begovic, Shotton, Huth, Upson, Wilkinson (Whitehead, 68), Kightly (Crouch 75), Whelan, Nzonzi, Etherington (Jerome 57), Walters, Jones. Subs (not used): Sorensen, Palacios, Adam, Owen.
Saints: K. Davis, Yoshida, Fonte, Hooiveld, Shaw (Fox 81) Puncheon (Richardson 85), Cork, Schneiderlin, Guly, Rodriguez, Lambert. Subs (not used): Boruc, Ramirez, De Ridder, S. Davis, Mayuka
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Jos Hooiveld, Guly, and Jay Rodriguez were recalled to the starting eleven. Gaston Ramirez and Steven Davis were named amongst the substitutes, whilst Nathaniel Clyne missed out altogether in the changes from Boxing Day.
Saints, in their changed strip of yellow and blue, got the match underway defending the end housing the strong travelling support on a cool and overcast day in the Potteries.
The visitors made a solid start to the game as they dealt with the initial aerial threat from City led by giant forwards John Walters and former Saints man Kenwyne Jones.
Adkins’ men stretched the play well in the opening exchanges, forcing the hosts back deeper and deeper, and their plan worked a treat, as they took the lead with ten minutes on the watch.
A break forward led by Rodriguez saw the striker feed Guly out on the left side, and the Brazilian curled a terrific delivery to the far post where Rickie LAMBERT was waiting to slam home for his eighth goal of the season.
Moments after the goal, Jones should have done better at the other end when he stole in at the back stick, but he lifted his effort from six yards out, over the bar.
Having silenced the majority of the usually vocal home support, Saints were soon back on the offensive with Guly once more providing a teasing cross from the left which was headed clear this time by Matt Upson.
Saints’ lead though was to last only six minutes when Stoke levelled just past the quarter hour mark through a neat bit of trickery by in form front man JONES. The Trinidadian forward clipped Ryan Shotton’s low cross into the far corner with a back-heeled effort for his third goal in four games.
The leveller didn’t change Stoke’s approach to the game, and after riding out a brief storm, Saints struck again to retake the lead on 25 minutes.
Another strike from Lambert caused the initial damage, with Robert Huth making a clearing header which came back against the crossbar, but into the path of RODRIGUEZ inside the six yard box, who gleefully tapped home for 2-1.
Saints were now running the hosts ragged with Puncheon and Guly getting more and more joy on either flank, with the former testing Begovic with a fierce rising shot at the near post before the half hour.
After becoming the first side to score more than one goal against Stoke on their own patch this season, the visitors continued to look the more likely to score again, whilst their opponents were wasteful.
And on 36, they did it again! Puncheon’s cross from the right was cushioned down by Lambert into the path of RODRIGUEZ who got in behind defender Andy Wilkinson to lift the ball possibly via a deflection off the full back past Begovic for a deserved two goal lead.
Two minutes later, the ball sat up perfectly for Jack Cork, who unleashed a fierce drive at goal from distance, but this time Stoke’s Bosnian ‘keeper was behind it.
Tony Pulis’s side looked out of ideas at not only combatting the visitors but also trying to find a way back into the game, with the Saints fans taunting the lack of ‘the famous atmosphere’ from a subdued Britannia Stadium.
Saints were resolute up to the break, and no-one inside the ground would deny that they merited their lead heading into the break.
Half Time: Stoke 1-3 Saints
There were no changes at the break from either side as Saints looked to pick up from where they left off, with the away fans hoping to see a repeat performance in the second 45.
An early booking for Jose Fonte for a foul on Kightly gave the hosts a set play to try and unsettle the Saints backline, but Guly averted the danger with a headed clearance before Fonte recovered again to deny the home side’s next attack.
Kelvin Davis held Kightly’s low drive with his first save of the half, with the hosts trying to tempt Saints into matching their style as the action swung from each to end through lofted passes.
The aerial duels came to a head quite literally and by the look of it, painfully too as Wilkinson and Huth clattered into one another to cause a lengthy stoppage after the Stoke duo went up to comete with Rodriguez for a header.
The hosts immediately withdrew winger Etherington in favour of striker Cameron Jerome as the hour mark approached.
A series of Stoke corners followed, though Saints continued to stand their ground impressively under pressure.
Saints hit back and went close to extending their lead when Rodriguez latched onto a through-ball to round ‘keeper Begovic, only for his goal-bound shot to be blocked by an outstretched Stoke defender’s leg.
On 65 the visitors created a golden opportunity to seal the contest when Lambert played Rodriguez in on goal, and although Begovic made the low save, the ball rebounded back out to Guly, who with the goal largely open in front of him, sliced his shot wide.
That miss was made to look a lot worse when the hosts took full advatnage from a pinball inside the area from a corner which UPSON capitalised from to slide home inside the area to reduce the deficit on 67.
A claim for a penalty from the host fell on deaf ears before Dean Whitehead replaced the battle hard Wilkinson.
But moments later, Stoke would be down to ten men when Steven NZonzi was dismissed for an atrocious foul on Cork in the middle of the field as the complexion of the game took another turn.
Former Saints man Peter Crouch was introduced for the final 15 minutes in place of Michael Kightly, as the hosts tried to rally another response.
At the other end, Rodriguez thought he was in the clear to find another goal, but this time, the whistle had already gone, and the forward was somewhat harshly booked for kicking the ball away.
Inside the last ten minutes Luke Shaw was withdrawn for Danny Fox as Saints looked to maintain their advantage towards the closing stages.
Saints introduced a second defender on 85 when one time Stoke loanee Frazer Richardson came on for Puncheon, as the visitors tightened up further under the hosts’ barrage.
Stoke thought they’d cracked it on 88 when Jerome broke free to lob the ball over Davis and into the net, but the assistant’s flag was raised for offside to see the ‘goal’ ruled out.
Just when Saints looked as though they’d done enough to make it to 90 minutes with the lead intact, the ten men of Stoke yielded an equaliser in sumptuous fashion when JEROME slammed home an incredible volley off the crossbar and off the underside of the bar for 3-3.
A total of seven minutes of stoppage time was added on with Saints going back into attacking mode to try and reclaim their lead, but it was the host who nearly struck again when Crouch headed a free-kick at goal which Davis blocked under pressure as a remarkable game came to a close.
Full Time: Stoke 3-3 Saints