Cardiff City missed the chance to put pressure on those above them in the relegation fight as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Stoke City.
While Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men were able to leapfrog Fulham – beaten by Tottenham earlier in the day – on goal difference in the Premier League table, they missed the chance to move level on points with Norwich in 17th, who are in action on Sunday against Liverpool.
Despite plenty of industry, the hosts could only manage a draw at the Cardiff City Stadium as Mark Hughes’ Stoke edged closer to securing a top-half finish for the first time in the Premier League.
In a first half of relatively few chances, Stoke took the lead through Marko Arnautovic’s penalty just before the interval.
The Austrian made no mistake with the spot-kick after Peter Odemwingie was adjudged to have been brought down in the area by Kim Bo-kyung, although television replays suggested that the decision was harsh.
Referee Howard Webb was at the centre of the action once more when he pointed to the spot again early in the second half – Steven N’Zonzi this time penalised for bringing down Fraizer Campbell – with Peter Whittingham levelling the scores.
Aside from a Juan Cala effort that was ruled out for offside, Cardiff did not show enough going forward to merit a second goal and what would have been a vital three points in their survival battle.
Indeed, in the end they were fortunate to escape with a point after Jon Walters struck the crossbar for Stoke late on.
In an entertaining start, Mats Daehli’s deflected early effort had the potential to cause Asmir Begovic in the Stoke goal problems, but it drifted just wide, and the Norwegian was involved again shortly afterwards.
He played Jordon Mutch in behind the Stoke backline with an incisive pass, only for the Cardiff youngster to shoot straight at Begovic.
Stoke – who were without midfielder Charlie Adam as a result of his broken nose – gradually grew into the game but still remained somewhat sluggish as they struggled to muster forward momentum.
Hughes’ side headed into the game having won just twice away in the Premier League all season but Cardiff struggled to find a way through their well-organised backline, with Mutch and Campbell limited to shots from distance prior to the half-hour mark.
At the other end, David Marshall was called upon to beat away N’Zonzi’s effort following a quick break, before Stephen Ireland – who this week agreed a new three-year deal – and Arnautovic combined, the latter having dispossessed Kim, and crossed for Peter Crouch, but he failed to make clean contact.
However, the decisive moment of the half came in the closing moments as first Begovic tipped Whittingham’s curling free-kick onto his left-hand post, before Stoke took the lead thanks to Kim’s foul on Odemwingie.
The former Cardiff striker went down under a challenge from the South Korean and Webb pointed to the spot, despite replays suggesting that the decision may have been harsh, with Arnautovic slotting the resulting penalty down the middle.
Five minutes into the second half, Webb awarded a second penalty when N’Zonzi brought down Campbell – leading the line for Cardiff as Kenwyne Jones was left on the bench after his recent kidney problem.
Whittingham kept his cool to equalise from the spot, and the hosts thought they were ahead soon afterwards when Cala nodded the ball in from close range – only for it to be ruled out for offside.
That, though, was as close as Cardiff went to a winner as their wait for back-to-back league victories this term continued.
And Walters almost stole a late win for the visitors in injury time, but his curled effort from distance struck the crossbar.
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