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Rickie Lambert ended his six-game Barclays Premier League goal drought to earn Southampton a point against Stoke City at St Mary’s. The striker had gone over nine hours without finding the net, but was on hand to tap home after former Saints striker Peter Crouch had headed Stoke into the lead.
The home side were without suspended duo Gaston Ramirez and Danny Fox, but Luke Shaw and Lambert both managed to prove their fitness. Charlie Adam’s red card against Tottenham Hotspur last week ensured a premature end to his season for Stoke, while Glenn Whelan remained sidelined with a groin injury. Michael Owen, who had announced that he will retire at the end of the season, could only manage a place on the bench.
Southampton looked the brighter during the opening exchanges, with Lambert finding the net within the first 30 seconds, only for his effort ruled out for offside. Lambert was at the centre of the home side’s early opportunities, sending several decent chances over the bar during the opening quarter of an hour.
Stoke manager Tony Pulis was handed an early blow 10 minutes later, when Marc Wilson was forced to hobble off to be replaced by Andy Wilkinson. Stoke came into this came having not won on the South Coast since 1980, and they struggled to suggest that they would change that record as the first half wore on.
Matthew Etherington saw his dipping long-range effort fly just over the bar, before Jonathan Walters hit a shot at goalkeeper Kelvin Davis after a jinking run from the right. But Stoke took the lead moments after the break, as Crouch got ahead of his marker to meet Geoff Cameron’s teasing cross from the right and power a header past a despairing Kelvin Davis.
Southampton appeared unfazed though and responded well, with Stoke keeper Asmir Begovic called upon several times in the space of a few minutes to deny strikes from Steven Davis and Lambert. But it was Begovic’s fumble that allowed the home side to equalise just before the hour.
Adam Lallana’s free-kick was only partially cleared by the Stoke defence, eventually finding its way to Steven Davis, whose shot could only be parried by Begovic into the path of a grateful Lambert, who tapped home from close range.
Owen was introduced to the game late on to a great ovation from the home crowd, but struggled to make an impact, as Southampton continued to press for a winner. Jason Puncheon, who came off the bench to score in his side's draw with Sunderland last week, was brought on for the hosts but could only strike an effort at Begovic this time around.
The result means that Tony Pulis’s side miss out on a top-half finish, ending the season in 13th, just one point ahead of Southampton who have impressed on their return to the Barclays Premier League.
Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino: "[Chairman] Nicola Cortese staying is the best possible news for next season. That is very good for the squad, for the whole club. We will talk about the summer and the budgets with Nicola from tomorrow."
"We wanted to win, but weren't able to do so. The same story has happened, we dominated, created better chances, but we just couldn't close down the game and it shows we need to be more clinical and assertive."
Stoke City manager Tony Pulis: "It was always the plan to bring [Michael Owen] on. He had a great chance in the second half to actually put the icing on the cake. If he had scored, I think even the Southampton supporters would have given him a round of applause.
"He got a great reception and he deserves it. He has been a very, very good pro for us and, not just his football side; he is a very, very good family man. We're pleased with the year he has been with us. He is good fun to work with, a good person to work with and we wish him all the best for the future.
|08 Mar 2014||v Crystal Palace (A)|
|15 Mar 2014||v Southampton (H)|
|23 Mar 2014||v Spurs (A)|
|29 Mar 2014||v Southampton (H)|
|05 Apr 2014||v Man City (A)|
|12 Apr 2014||v Southampton (H)|