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Sunderland fail to break down Stoke in goalless draw
5:36pm Saturday 27th October 2012 in Sport
MARTIN O’NEILL’S decision to stick with his miss-firing attackings failed to pay off as Sunderland struggled to break down a resolute Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium.
Only Steven Fletcher has been on target for the Black Cats this season and despite calls from supporters to drop the likes of James McClean and Adam Johnson after several disappointing displays, O’Neill kept faith in the pair.
Stephane Sessegnon did drop to the bench as Lee Cattermole returned after serving a three-match ban, but again the Black Cats struggled to break down their opponents and again lacked that cutting edge in the final third.
Similarly, Stoke City have had to rely on Peter Crouch for goals this season – he has scored all three of their goals at the Britannia Stadium this season – and Tony Pulis was also left looking for a solution as his side also struggled to find the net.
Both side’s incompetence in front of goal set up for a highly inevitable outcome in Staffordshire as both sides failed to find a breakthrough in a drab goalless draw.
Neither side took it upon themselves to take control of the game early on and that resulted in very few chances being created in the opening 45 minutes.
In fact, the Potters were responsible for the only shots on target before the break when Simon Mignolet saved Michael Kightly’s effort from the right side of the area. The ball had fallen to the winger after Danny Rose had superbly blocked Dean Whithead’s low strike.
Those chances had come from a failed Sunderland attack, in which James McClean had surrendered possession despite receiving a neat flick-on from Carlos Cuellar.
McClean’s frustration summed up the visitors’ first half performance, in which they had seen plenty of the ball, but they were lacking the quality in the final third that they have been missing in recent weeks.
Cuellar’s glancing header from Sebastian Larsson’s free-kick was the closest O’Neill’s side came to taking the lead in the first half, even top scorer Steven Fletcher couldn’t chip in with a much-needed goal.
The Black Cats made a more encouraging start to the second half and after Adam Johnson had curled a 20-yard shot over Asmir Begovic’s bar, they saw appeals for a penalty waved away.
Jack Colback had surged forward from midfield and was found in the box by Fletcher, but referee Mark Halsey waved play on after the Sunderland man was charged over by Ryan Shawcross.
Fletcher missed a great chance to put the Black Cats ahead after receiving a superb through ball from substitute Stephane Sessegnon, but the striker took too long to set himself up and his shot was blocked by Andy Wilkinson.
Peter Crouch has scored all of Stoke’s goals in the Premier League this season and the striker almost got a fourth, but Mignolet was on hand to save his powerful header from six yards out.
The hosts pressed forward in the closing stages, but neither Crouch nor Kightly could finish off chances from inside the area.