UNITED and Stoke shared the spoils in a fascinating pre-season friendly at Plainmoor.
A tight first-half was edged by the Potters, with Matthew Etherington opening the scoring from a driven volley five minutes before the interval.
The Gulls came back well after the break and thoroughly deserved an equaliser from Billy Bodin, and what an excellent goal, bamboozling the Stoke defence with a weaving run before smashing home from 20 yards.
The evening began with the official opening of our magnificent new grandstand, Bristow’s Bench, and a warm round of applause for Thea Bristow and family, and all those involved in this club-changing project.
On the pitch, a bright start from the Gulls enabled Rene Howe to muscle his way into space and spear a stinging shot narrowly over Thomas Sorensen’s crossbar.
The Stoke City response was typically robust, as a high ball toward the United penalty area was contested by former England striker Peter Crouch and Australian Aaron Downes, with the loose ball falling for Ryan Shotton to scoop high into the Family Stand.
United were quick to settle into their rhythm after a comparatively frantic start for a pre-season friendly, although some fine wing-work from Etherington presented Crouch with a glorious chance on 18 minutes, but he skewed his shot horribly wide.
The Yellow response was an encouraging period of pressure for the Gulls, culminating in a Danny Stevens effort narrowly missing the target.
There was undoubtedly an improvement in the tempo and sharpness in United’s play, and the positive vibe was certainly enhanced by the excellent defensive work of Downes and Brian Saah in nullifying the obvious physical threat posed by a forward of Crouch’s height.
Just when it looked like the Gulls were cruising to a very satisfactory half-time stalemate, Premier League quality reared its head with a chip to the back-post from Shotton met sweetly on the volley by Etherington, and Michael Poke could only watch the ball nestle neatly in his far corner.
There was suspicion of a deflection from Jon Walters but Etherington was credited with the goal, and Stoke ended the first half playing some incisive football in and around the home penalty box.
The second period started in similar fashion, as a sweeping corner from Shotton found Cameron Jerome unmarked but his side-foot volley was brilliantly saved by the feet of Poke.
Stoke started ringing the changes and United followed the pattern in a sequence which understandably disrupted the fow of the game, although the introduction of Lloyd Macklin once again sparked life into the Gulls.
His direct running from the flank had the Yellow Army purring until the excitement turned to a wince when Thomas Cruise took a whack in the face that forced him out of the action.
The game descended into a lull as both sides looked content for the game to fizzle out. Stoke were comfortably repelling Yellow advances on their goal but the same could be said for the Gulls.
Finally, the dancing feet of substitute Bodin had the Potters on the back-foot and his final shot was deflected into the side-netting.
It was a momentary reprieve for the Premier League big boys, as Bodin sauntered beautifully across the edge of the Stoke are before rifling an unstoppable shot beyond the low dive of substitute ‘keeper Carlo Nash. It was a terrific goal and gave the scoreline a fairer reflection of proceedings.
Ashley Yeoman almost snatched a winner, cutting inside from the left flank to drive a low shot toward the far corner and Nash did very well to turn the ball wide.
The Yellow Army crowned a fine evening with a chant of “only one Paul Bristow”. It was a fitting end to a night when Bristow’s Bench was declared officially open.