Match Report: Sunderland's Simon Mignolet at his best to keep Stoke City at bay
Stoke City 0 Sunderland 0
Sunday 28 October 2012
There was nothing to separate these sides on paper, and so too it proved on the pitch. This stalemate made it six draws apiece for Stoke and Sunderland in the Premier League, leaving them both on nine points and separated by a solitary goal.
Unsurprisingly, the star of the show was a goalkeeper, Sunderland's Simon Mignolet. The Belgian's string of agile palms and parries kept the Potters at bay in a game woefully bereft of quality and clear-cut chances. Mignolet's best was an outstanding reflex save to deny Robert Huth.
Stoke's manager Tony Pulis said: "We went to win the game, but Sunderland defended really well. I thought the keeper played really well but we needed a break.
"It was always going to be a tight game, Sunderland are a good side and we don't look down our noses at them. They're a tough team to play against, but I think only one team was going to win the game and that was us."
His counterpart Martin O'Neill added: "It was a difficult game played in difficult conditions. Eventually a point away from home isn't too bad. We have drawn a lot of games, we have just been unable to turn a lot of them into victories."
Mignolet was first tested when Danny Rose's foul on Geoff Cameron handed Charlie Adam the chance to curl in a 22nd-minute free-kick. While Huth failed to apply his head to the delivery, Mignolet had to react swiftly to push the ball away from his goalmouth. Rose charged down a Dean Whitehead drive, yet the Black Cats failed to avert the danger and, picked out at the back post, Ryan Shawcross was thwarted by the Belgian.
Set pieces appeared the best route to goal for both sides. Sunderland went close to opening the scoring on the half-hour when central defender Carlos Cuellar sent Sebastian Larsson's floated free-kick narrowly wide.
Stoke were forced into a change soon after the restart with full-back Marc Wilson requiring a stretcher after appearing to over-stretch his knee on the turf. He was taken to hospital but his manager did not immediately know the extent of the injury.
Adam was offered a genuine sight on goal by Cameron's surging run to the by-line. The midfielder drove the cut-back from the US international high at goal, but Mignolet's stretching arms kept out the effort.
Then Fletcher, guided on to goal by an astute pass from substitute Stephane Sessegnon, appealed for a penalty when his shot was blocked by Huth's hand. While unintentional, it stopped the Scot's goal bound effort. "I thought that if it had been given against us I might have been none too pleased," O'Neill, to his credit, remarked. "If it misses him it's in the net, that's the galling thing. I think the referee said he thought he [Huth] was too close to it, which I'm not too sure about, but I don't think it was deliberate."
Mignolet again demonstrated superb reflexes to keep out Huth's thumping header from Michael Kightly's free-kick. It was Stoke's best chance and ultimately earned his team a point.
"The goalkeeper made a very good save," O'Neill added. "Eventually in a game of very few chances, to not get beaten away from home is always something, particularly here. Simon has been fantastic for us this year. He has age on his side and really should be a fine goalkeeper."
The 24-year-old's day was far from over. He made his mark again when holding Huth's stoppage-time header and dashed from his goal-line to push the ball clear from the onrushing Peter Crouch before Kightly drove the loose ball wide.
Eight minutes of stoppage time came and went without a goal. Given the statistics, it should not have come as such a surprise.
Stoke (4-5-1): Begovic; Cameron, Shawcross, Huth, Wilson (Wilkinson, 54); Walters (Etherington, 72), Whitehead, N'Zonzi, Adam (Owen, 79), Kightly; Crouch.
Sunderland (4-5-1): Mignolet; Gardner, O'Shea, Cuellar, Rose (Bardsley, 83); Johnson (Saha, 89); Larsson (Sessegnon, 61), Cattermole, Colback, McClean; Fletcher.
Referee: Rob Halsey
Man of the match: Mignolet (Sunderland)
Match rating: 5/10
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