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Match Report: Stoke City 0 Sunderland 0
KEY MAN: Mignolet saves at the feet of Crouch – the goalkeeper was again Sunderland’s brightest performer
BEFORE the weekend, Stoke City were the only team to have drawn as many games as Sunderland this season, so it was inevitable that Saturday’s meeting at the Britannia Stadium would end in a stalemate.
Martin O’Neill’s side have now drawn six of their opening eight Premier League games and once again lacked a creative spark.
Despite calls to drop the out-of-form James McClean and Adam Johnson, the manager stood by his wingers, but again he was let down by his attackers, who are clearly struggling to deal with a crisis in confidence and quality.
Even Steven Fletcher, who scored five goals in his first four games, appears to have caught the same bug and he also looked out of sorts as Stoke dominated the number of chances created.
McClean, in particular, failed to make an impact down the left and after a couple of failed attempts to go past Stoke full-back Geoff Cameron, the 23-year-old remained pretty much anonymous for the rest of the game.
Eight months ago, Mc- Clean’s solitary strike gave Sunderland three points at the Britannia Stadium, but the Republic of Ireland international still looks a shadow of the player that set the Premier League alight almost 12 months ago.
McClean has admitted he is struggling to deal with the attention that comes with being a top-flight star, but fellow wide man Johnson is confident the 23-year-old will recapture the form he first showed in a Sunderland shirt.
“I remember when I was coming through. As wingers you do get games when you get frustrated and you become isolated,” Johnson said.
“That can be very frustrating and I could see a bit of that with him, but I think he’s strong enough and maybe he needs a bit of encouragement.
“As wingers you can be seen not to be in the thick of the action as much because you are out wide, but he has the quality to create goals.
“Sometimes you’ve got to think of other ways to hurt teams. In your second season, people pay more attention to you and you can have two men on you at the same time and that’s why teams have been hard to score against.
“I think it’s something he will learn to deal with. He’s been terrific and we’re only eight games into the season.
He’s been working on his game and it’s just something you have to do.
“It’s something I still do now and it is difficult when you have two or three men around you every time you get the ball. I think he’s finding that this season, but I’m sure he’ll work hard and it’ll all come through for him.”
Much like their visitors, Tony Pulis’ side have struggled going forward this season so it was of little surprise that the opening 45 minutes passed with only two shots on target between the sides.
Simon Mignolet did well to palm away Charlie Adam’s free kick, before he saved from Michael Kightly’s follow-up.
Kightly again tried his luck after cutting inside from the left, but Carlos Cuellar did well to head his effort away from goal.
The second half brought more Stoke chances with Adam and Kightly looking the most likely to break the deadlock, while the Black Cats struggled to muster a meaningful attack.
O’Neill introduced Stephane Sessegnon just after the hour mark in the hope he could spring the Black Cats into life and the Benin international did create Sunderland’s best chance.
He chased the ball down on the left and played in Fletcher, who was waiting on the right side of the box. A few weeks ago, the £12million man would have tried his luck first time, but his hesitation allowed Huth to get in position for the block and referee Mark Halsey waved away protests that the defender had purposely stopped the ball with his arm.
That was as good as it got for the Black Cats, who had to rely on Mignolet’s weekly heroics to make sure they left the Potteries with a point. He made a brilliant save to deny Huth’s close range header before doing enough to divert Crouch away from goal with Kightly hitting the side netting from the rebound.
“I think it’s a better point than some of the points we’ve got this season,’’ claimed Johnson.
“They make it difficult for teams with their aerial presence but I thought we defended very well.
“There are a lot of things we can do better. We haven’t been creating that much going forward but hopefully that will change and we’ll be able to score a few more goals.
“We need to create more chances. Me, James and the other midfielders need to work harder for the strikers.
We’re working on it and hopefully it will come.”
Stoke defender Marc Wilson has confirmed he suffered a broken fibula after a challenge on Black Cats striker Steven Fletcher just a few minutes into the second half.