The lingering yawn from Richard Scudamore said it all. The best league in the world? Those at the Stadium of Light last night would take some convincing, as Sunderland's past and present not so much cancelled each other out as sucked the life out of each other. The team that can't win away from home and the team that can't win full-stop fought out an almost inevitable stalemate.
The Premier League's chief executive, his indiscretion caught on camera midway through the second half of this utter non-event, had it just about right. He'd have a pretty hard time trying to sell a contest as tepid as this to the good people of Sydney or Vancouver, or any other long-haul location which might be so unfortunate to stage a 39th game this poor. "It wasn't much fun to play in," Michael Turner, the Sunderland defender, admitted. He can be assured it was no less painful to watch.
Kenwyne Jones wasted the clearest of the precious few openings created by the hosts, shooting tamely at Danish keeper Thomas Sorensen from close range after Turner's knock-down, to leave the hosts without a victory in 10 league games spanning more than two months, the early-season optimism which brought with it talk of Europa League qualification a fading memory.
"It was a horror story," Steve Bruce conceded after chalking up a paltry eighth point from a last possible 42. Ever one to look on the bright side, he added: "It might just be the springboard we need. The supporters were frustrated. We tried to entertain them, but it wasn't a very good spectacle, to say the least. It was an abysmal game, to be honest.
"You could see the players were edgy and we lacked that bit of quality," he added, after calling for "common sense" from the Premier League in the wake of missing the deadline to bring in Benjani on loan from Manchester City due to what the Sunderland manager termed "technical difficulties".
For a side without a goal on their travels for eight-and-a-half hours, Stoke carved out the contest's two clear-cut chances to bookend a soporific 90 minutes. Each time Craig Gordon stood firm as Dean Whitehead, one of six former Sunderland players in the visitors' squad, and then substitute Ricardo Fuller bore down on goal.
"It was a good chance and I should have done a lot better," reflected Whitehead, who was fortunate to remain on the pitch after aiming a kick at Lee Cattermole in retaliation for a wild first-half lunge. "We're looking solid and a threat going forward so we are progressing quite well," he added, somewhat unconvincingly.
Robert Huth also went close with a late header for the visitors, although the German's most telling contribution came at the other end midway through the second period when he clearly used his hand to control the ball in halting Darren Bent's dash into the area. Referee Howard Webb, however, was unmoved.
"It's the first time in a while Steve's been able to put out what he'd call his 'A' team," Tony Pulis, the Stoke manager said. "In Darren Bent and Kenwyne Jones they have a £30m strikeforce. That kind of money would by my team a couple of times over so we have to be happy with a point."
Sunderland (4-4-2): Gordon; Mensah, Turner, Kilgallon, McCartney; Malbranque (Campbell, 69), Cattermole (Henderson, 89), Cana, Reid (Zenden, 69); Bent, Jones. Substitutes not used: Fulop (gk), Bardsley, Meyler, Da Silva.
Stoke City (4-4-2): Sorensen; Huth, Shawcross, Ab Faye (Wilkinson, 17), Higginbotham; Diao (Delap, 74), Whitehead, Whelan, Etherington; Sanli (Fuller, 62), Sidibe. Substitutes not used: Simonsen (gk), Lawrence, Beattie, Collins.
Referee: H Webb (S Yorkshire).
Booked: Sunderland Cattermole, Mensah; Stoke Whitehead, Fuller, Wilkinson.
Man of the match: Reid.
Attendance: 35,078.Reuse content