Cameron Jerome hit a stunning last-minute equalizer as Stoke City drew 3-3 at home to Southampton on Saturday.
First-half goals from the instrumental Rickie Lambert, Jay Rodriguez and an Andy Wilkinson own-goal were cancelled out by return strikes from Kenwyne Jones, Matthew Upson and Jerome, while Stephen N’Zonzi saw red for the hosts in the second half at the Britannia Stadium.
Tony Pulis was able to name nine of the eleven Stoke players who beat Liverpool on Boxing Day, with Upson and Ryan Shotton standing in for the suspended Ryan Shawcross and Geoff Cameron.
Southampton, meanwhile, were still without skipper Adam Lallana – who has not featured since December 8, but welcomed Rodriguez and Guly Do Prado back into the starting line-up.
And it was Do Prado who made an early impact, delivering a far-post ball into the danger area on 10 minutes, with Lambert on hand to silence the Britannia faithful and smash home his eighth of the season.
It did not take long for the Potters to hit back, however, as Jones first contrived to fire over from only yards out, but quickly made amends on 16 minutes after expertly back-heeling the ball between Jos Hooiveld’s legs and past Kelvin Davis.
The finish was a thing of beauty. But one moment of magic proved insufficient, and the visitors duly responded.
First, Lambert whipped in a dangerous cross that forced Robert Huth into a mis-hit clearance on 24 minutes.
The ball rattled the crossbar, Asmir Begovic was nowhere to be seen and Rodriguez had the world at his feet, duly slotting home into an empty net from two yards out.
And, on 36 minutes, Stoke’s defensive nightmare deepened. A simple Jason Puncheon cross from deep entered the box and was headed down by Lambert, before Andy Wilkinson sent the ball into his own net.
Suddenly, the absence of Cameron and Shawcross at the back looked telling for the hosts.
This was no longer a case of back and forth; this was becoming a commanding performance from the visitors and the ever-present Lambert in particular.
But Stoke came at the visitors with everything they had after the break and were rewarded on 65 minutes when Upson slotted home from inside the box off a corner to prove an unlikely scorer.
The goal lifted the energy levels of the home players and doubled the noise levels of the home fans – it was game on.
The excitement seemed too much for some, namely N’Zonzi, who lashed out with a poor challenge on Jack Cork right in front of the referee and was shown a straight red after 70 minutes.
But in the 90th minute, the hosts’ patience and persistence paid off.
Second-half substitute Peter Crouch knocked the ball down on the edge of the area and there was Jerome to strike a thunderous volley into the top-corner from range, ensuring Stoke are still unbeaten at home after 17 games.
What a way to finish 2012.
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