Manchester City moved into fourth place in the Premier League after Gareth Barry's late equaliser rescued a controversial 1-1 draw at Stoke on Tuesday.
Roberto Mancini's side looked set to suffer another disappointment against Stoke, who had Abdoulaye Faye sent off early in the second half, as the hosts took the lead through Glenn Whelan in the closing stages. But England midfielder Barry levelled with just five minutes left at the Britannia Stadium to lift City above Liverpool into the final UEFA Champions League place with a game in hand still to play. Stoke felt hard done by at the end as Ryan Shawcross's stoppage time goal was ruled out for a foul on City goalkeeper Shay Given.
Mancini made five changes to the side that squandered a lead in their 1-1 draw against Stoke in the FA Cup on Saturday, with Wayne Bridge, Pablo Zabaleta, Stephen Ireland, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Martin Petrov all dropped. Rory Delap's trademark long throw had caused City all manner of problems at the weekend and led to Ricardo Fuller's equaliser, so it was no surprise to see the midfielder take every chance to do the same in the early stages here. Four times inside the opening 10 minutes, Delap unleashed his rocket throws and Shawcross almost took advantage twice as he headed over and then had an effort cleared by Micah Richards.
It wasn't just throw-ins that troubled the City defence. From Liam Lawrence's free-kick, Mamady Sidibe had a golden chance to score but the Mali striker shot tamely at Given. Faye was next to threaten when he met Lawrence's corner with a powerful header that Joleon Lescott had to scramble clear.
Giants slowly awake
City finally fashioned a sight of goal when Barry shot wide, then Paraguay striker Santa Cruz tried his luck with a volley from Adam Johnson's cross. After being battered in the first half, City got a break when Emmanuel Adebayor raced onto a long punt from Given and Faye responded by hauling down the Togo striker outside the penalty area.
Referee Alan Wiley consulted with his assistant before showing Faye a straight red card. City found it hard to make their one-man advantage count however, and Stoke were back on the attack when Fuller appealed for a penalty after Barry blocked his route to goal.
Tony Pulis's side made City pay for their nervous display as Whelan opened the scoring in the 72 minute. Johnson sliced his attempted clearance of Delap's cross into the path of Whelan, and the Irish midfielder's powerful shot from the edge of the area deceived Given.
To City's credit they took control after that and equalised with five minutes to play when Adebayor flicked on to Barry, who scored at the second attempt after his first effort hit a post. There was still time for more drama as Given missed a Delap throw and Shawcross headed home, only to see his effort disallowed for a foul on the keeper.
Mancini felt his side should have made more of their numerical advantage: "In the first half it was difficult for us because the ball was always in the air. But we fought very well and in the second half when we played with one player more we managed to play better.
"It is two (points) lost because we played 11 against 10 for 40 minutes. We must play better. We had many chances to score a goal but when we arrive in the box we must be more aggressive. You must have a chance and you must score a goal. I am disappointed with this result because when you play 11 against 10 you must play better."