Stoke and Sunderland fought out a tense 0-0 draw at the Britannia Stadium, in a game punctuated by several last-ditch saves from Simon Mignolet.
The Belgian had to be at his best to deny the Potters attack in a game which is unlikely to live long in the memory of those in attendance.
Stoke boss Tony Pulis kept faith with the team that ran Manchester United close at Old Trafford last week. It meant that Michael Owen continues to wait for his first start for the Potteries club.
The visitors welcomed back skipper Lee Cattermole from a three-match ban, replacing Stephane Sessegnon, who dropped to the bench. Phil Bardsley made his first appearance of the season on the bench after a long injury layoff. The Scot was the last Sunderland player apart from Steven Fletcher to score when he netted in the penultimate match of last season.
With 14 goals between them in 15 league matches this season and just one win each, this was never likely to be a high-scoring bonanza. Both sides set out with a lone striker, but the midfields cancelled each other out for long spells meaning there was little support on offer to the front men.
In a forgetful opening period, it was the home side that shaded it without looking likely to break the deadlock. The game briefly sprung into life midway through the first half when Danny Rose was booked for a reckless challenge on Michael Kightly. Black Cats keeper Mignolet kept out Adam’s fierce free kick, but he failed to get much distance on his punch and Ryan Shawcross should have done better than fire wide from 15 yards.
Shortly later, Kightly cut inside and then unleashed a curling effort from 25 yards that Carlos Cuellar had to head wide from under his own crossbar. From the resultant corner, Mignolet again had to look lively as Ryan Shawcross looked set to pounce.
It took the visitors until beyond the half-hour mark to record an effort worthy of note. A Seb Larsson free kick was met by the towering presence of Cuellar, but the Spaniard’s glancing header went narrowly wide.
Despite a sterile first half, neither side made changes at the break, but the home side was forced to make one soon after the restart when Marc Wilson went down heavily in challenge with Steven Fletcher. The Stoke defender fell awkwardly. After a lengthy stoppage, Wilson was carried from the pitch with a suspected broken leg.
The game then descended once again into a scrappy, cagey affair with neither side able to assert any authority. A succession of bookings and substitutions didn’t help the flow, though one highlight was a verbal joust between O’Neill and Shawcross on the touchline that led the Stoke skipper to receive a ticking off from referee Mark Halsey.
There were occasional glimpses of goal, though Adam Johnson’s 25-yard thunderbolt would have been out of keeping with the encounter if it had sailed between the sticks.
At the other end, Charlie Adam stumbled as he was picked out by a Geoff Cameron pass and failed to trouble Mignolet.
Sessegnon replaced the ineffectual Larsson and it nearly paid immediate dividends when he picked out Fletcher in space, but the Scot hesitated and that allowed Huth to block his effort. Sunderland claimed that the German used an arm and replays appear to back its pleas.
The game appeared to be drifting to a tame draw, but Huth nearly gave Stoke an unlikely winner when his darting header forced Mignolet into a point-blank save.
The injury to Wilson meant an additional eight minutes and much of it was spent around the Sunderland boss with Mignolet again to the rescue when saving at Crouch's feet.
Follow GOAL.COM on Twitter
- Sports & Recreation
- Simon Mignolet
- Ryan Shawcross
- Steven Fletcher