More Izwan heroics as Stoke see off Singapore

Izwan Mahbud produced another polished performance in goal as his Singapore Select XI fell to a 2-0 defeat to Stoke City in the third-place playoff at the Barclays Asia Trophy.

Strikes from Steve Sidwell and Marko Arnautovic (pictured above) wrapped up Stoke’s pre-season tour at the Singapore National Stadium as Mark Hughes gave Shay Given his debut. Sidwell scored with an easy tap-in after just six minutes before Arnautovic killed the game with a neat finish in the 73rd.

Given was a star attraction for the Potters, yet it was his Singaporean counterpart’s brilliant one-on-one saves that provided the majority of the highlights for the home crowd. Calm and dominant in the box, the 25-year-old Izwan swept up any loose balls and single-handedly kept the scoreline respectable.

“Basically Izwan kept us in the game," Singapore Select XI coach V. Sundarmoorthy said afterwards. "He had an excellent game.

“He had some great one-on-one saves and without him we would’ve been in big trouble."

Against a partisan crowd, it was Stoke who settled into the game quicker, keeping possession and pinning the Singapore Select team in their own half.

Stoke showed their intent from the kick-off playing Peter Crouch and Marco Van Ginkel, with the former proving quite a handful for the home defence. After the first corner of the match, it was Crouch’s header back into the danger zone that led to Sidwell’s opening strike.

With Stoke deploying a high backline, Singapore were hardly given any breathing space and struggled to penetrate the visitor’s disciplined defence, although they but have some encouraging periods of sustained possession.

The home side relied on their tricky winger, Nicholas Velez, to provide the spark in the final third and he did not disappoint. The 25-year-old Argentine played a perfectly weighted through ball deep into the box for the overlapping Nazrul Nazari, but the Singaporean defender could only blast his shot into the side-netting.

The biggest chance for the hosts came just before the halftime whistle. Shahdan Sulaiman put Safuwan Baharudin through with a sweet lob into the box, which left Stoke defenders Geoff Cameron and Philipp Wollscheid flat-footed. With the linesman keeping his flag down, Safuwan executed an exquisite chip over Given, but the ball bounced agonisingly wide to the dismay of the crowd.

After the intermission, Stoke were in cruise control and at times looked too casual in their play. But with the hosts unable to punish the Potters’ mistakes, Given hardly had a touch of the ball in the second half.

Just before the hour mark, Sidwell played a brilliant chip to put Mame Biram Diouf through. The Senegalese had ample time and space but was denied by Izwan, who kept his cool and closed down the forward to keep Singapore in the game.

The goalkeeper, who has been linked with a trial for Japanese club Matsumoto Yamaga, kept out a few more attacks by Stoke before being substituted to a rapturous applause from the home crowd.

Stoke manager Mark Hughes feels his new-look side is starting to come together as its season-opening clash with Liverpool at the Britannia Stadium on August 8 looms ever closer.

The Welshman also reserved praise for the Potters' opponents for their approach to the game.

“I thought they did really well," he said. "They played with great energy and had great enthusiasm for the game.

“They had some good ideas tactically as well and had a solid game plan. Obviously we’re a big, strong Premier League side and they probably lacked a little bit of power.

“That was the key difference, but they can be pleased with their performance in both games I thought.”

Photo credit: Weixiang Lim/FourFourTwo