London: Stoke and Sunderland fought out a tense 0-0 draw at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday afternoon, 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 during a match which is unlikely to live long in the memory of those in attendance.
Potters boss Tony Pulis kept faith with the team that ran Manchester United close at Old Trafford last week, meaning Michael Owen is yet to earn his first start for the club.
The visitors, meanwhile, welcomed back skipper Lee Cattermole from a three-match ban, replacing Stephane Sessegnon, who dropped to the bench. Phil Bardsley was also named as a substitute for the first time this season after a long injury lay-off. The Scot was the last Sunderland player apart from Steven Fletcher to score a goal, 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 forgettable opening period, it was the home side who shaded it without looking likely to break the deadlock. The game did briefly spring to life midway through the first half, though, after Danny Rose was booked for a reckless challenge on Michael Kightly. Black Cats keeper Mignolet kept out Adam’s fierce subsequent 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.
It took the visitors until beyond the half-hour mark to record an effort worthy of note themselves. 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. However, the home side was forced to make one soon after the restart when Marc Wilson went down heavily after a challenge from Steven Fletcher. The Stoke defender fell awkwardly and, after a lengthy stoppage, 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. 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.
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 immediately claimed that the German used an arm and replays in the aftermath appeared to back their 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 box with Mignolet again coming to the rescue when saving at Crouch`s feet.