A fantastic second-half performance from Asmir Begovic ensured a share of the spoils for Pulis' men, as a lively Torres & co. couldn't find a way past the impressive BosnianIt was perhaps not quite the start Andre Villas-Boas would have liked to his Chelsea managerial career but he would have to settle for a 0-0 draw in a tightly contested match with Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium on Sunday.
However this was largely in part to an inspirational performance from goalkeeper Asmir Begovic who kept the Potters in it with some fantastic saves thwarting the Blues three pronged attack – especially in the second half.
Jonathan Woodgate, plagued by injuries over the last few years, made his debut in defence for the Potters and produced a solid display alongside Robert Huth at the back.
Long throw-in specialist Rory Delap recovered from a hamstring injury which kept him out of Stoke’s Europa League tie against Hajduk Split and his arrowed balls in were cause for concern on numerous occasions.
Perhaps a slight surprise for the Blues was the inclusion of Fernando Torres. The striker suffered concussion midweek after playing for Spain but Villas-Boas felt that the former Liverpool man was still capable of giving the hosts a torrid time. Ryan Shawcross was determined for that not to be the case but found himself needlessly lunging in on the striker, picking up a caution early in the match.
The Potters made a strong start roared on by their excitable fans, but it was the visitors who forced the first save of any real note from an unlikely source in Jose Bosingwa.
The Portuguese full-back bombed forward and unleashed a cross-come-shot which had Asmir Begovic scrambling to his near post to put the ball behind for a corner, which came to nothing.
Torres who looked lively in the opening period was next to try his luck but he dragged his 20 yard shot wide of the target.
The Potters bombarded the Chelsea defence with an assault of long throws and high balls into the box typifying their sometimes unattractive but effective style of play, however the opening 30 minutes had elapsed without either side breaking the deadlock.
Ramires sought to change that with a fine run that deserved better than the final outcome allowed. The Chelsea midfielder drove at the host’s defence finding a rare chink in the Potters rearguard, before squaring the ball across goal but no-one was there to take advantage of the chance.
Stalemate | Etherington and Malouda battle it out in goalless draw in the Potteries
Stoke were next to threaten and had appeals for a penalty waved away by Mark Halsey as Jonathan Walters looked to bring the ball down in the box, but it appeared to hit Blues defender Terry on the right shoulder before he cleared the danger, leaving the striker perplexed.
Delap then floated a delightful ball to the back post as the hosts piled on the pressure but Alex nodded the ball behind to safety - feeling the presence of Kenwyne Jones lurking behind him – which ensured that the score would remain goalless at half-time.
Play resumed and it was not long before Ashley Cole produced a scorpion kick to beat Jones to the ball with the type of imagination and flair that Chelsea’s performance had so far lacked.
But that was all about to change as the visitors then had two penalty claims in quick succession turned down. Firstly Torres went down under the challenge of Woodgate and then Frank Lampard went surging into the box and fell rather easily to the ground although there looked to be only slight contact.
Jon Obi Mikel nearly silenced the home fans with a stunning volley from 30 yards out but Begovic reacted brilliantly to tip the ball over the bar.
Malouda stung the palms of the Potter’s keeper moments later as the Blues started to find their rhythm.
The home side responded well and another arrowed throw-in from Delap caused panic and confusion in the box with Cech caught underneath the ball under pressure, but the ball would not fall kindly for Walters and the Blues survived.
Nicolas Anelka was brought on for the ineffectual Malouda midway through the second half as Andre Villas-Boas sought more attacking impetus upfront and the Frenchman nearly provided the opener with an exquisite chip from the angle of the box but Begovic tipped it onto the bar.
Torres then produced a great cross to pick out Kalou but the Ivorian could only direct his header straight at the goalkeeper adding to his manager’s frustration and signalling the end of his day as he was replaced by Didier Drogba.
The Blues continued to pile on the pressure but the Potters defence stood firm and held on to the final whistle on a day of frustration for the Stamford Bridge club.