Jack Butland hopes to avoid relegation this season before going to the World Cup as England’s No 1 goalkeeper but his uncharacteristic blunder here did not help either of those prospects. Everything was looking rosy for Stoke until the 70th minute thanks to a beautiful goal by Xherdan Shaqiri but things grew thorny when Butland fumbled a cross by Marc Albrighton into his own goal.
Paul Lambert and several Stoke players put their heads in their hands, barely believing the error they had witnessed from their normally reliable goalkeeper. All Butland could do was get up and get better and, to his credit, that is what he did, producing several fine saves to stop Leicester from claiming all three points. The draw, in the end, was a fair result but a deeply frustrating one for Stoke, who would have climbed out of the bottom three with a win.
Lambert felt no need to criticise Butland, choosing instead to file the game-changing gaffe as a rare mishap from an outstanding player. “Butland, for my opinion, is the best goalkeeper in Britain, without a shadow of a doubt,” said the manager. “He will make mistakes like any other footballer. But more importantly, he’s a top-class keeper and a top-class guy around about the football club. He’s an absolutely brilliant goalkeeper. I’m just disappointed he’s not Scottish.”
If the late saves that Butland made suggested that Stoke can rely on him to keep his standards high for the remainder of their fight against relegation, other plus points also emerged for Lambert from this game. The most obvious was the form of Shaqiri, whose third goal in three matches showed the Swiss international is coming to the fore in his team’s time of need.
Shaqiri’s goal was a gem. Joe Allen helped to craft it, dispossessing Wilfred Ndidi by the touchline before feeding Shaqiri, who scurried infield and curled a low shot beyond Kasper Schmeichel and into the bottom corner from 25 yards. “It was a world-class goal and he’s a world-class footballer,” said Lambert.
Until that goal, the first half had been mostly dismal, characterised by sloppy passing, especially from Leicester. The meagre flair on show came from Riyad Mahrez, who seemed determined to prove his worth on his first Premier League start since last month’s thwarted transfer to Manchester City. But neither he nor anyone else looked like making a breakthrough for the home side.
Stoke have conceded more goals than any other team in the Premier League this season but for most of this match their defence was not in peril. That was partly because of the protection provided by a sturdy midfield trio of Allen, Badou Ndiaye and Geoff Cameron, but also because of the failings of Leicester, who did not test a back four in which Kostas Stafylidis was making his first start since his arrival from Augsburg in January and Bruno Martins Indi was returning from a long injury lay-off and had to hobble off again before the end.
The hosts could have fallen further behind in the 54th minute when the ever-dynamic Allen beat Matty James to a shanked clearance by Schmeichel. The Welshman again gave Shaqiri rapid service and the Swiss tried to fire into the net from 35 yards before Schmeichel got back to his goal, but the shot went wide.
Eventually Leicester improved. But it still took Butland’s blunder to bring them level. After that, however, the goalkeeper foiled Mahrez by flinging himself to his right to tip away a fine shot. Harry Maguire then cracked a shot off a post. Kurt Zouma made an excellent block to prevent Mahrez from having the last word, and James headed against a post. Stoke finished up clinging on for a draw, and wishing Butland had been able to hold on to Albrighton’s cross.