Unsightly Stoke go on defensive to make point

Wigan Athletic 0 Stoke City 0
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The Independent Football

It certainly will not be a love of the beautiful game that compels Arsène Wenger to sit down and watch this on DVD. Arsenal's suddenly more buoyant manager, preparing for a Carling Cup tie against Wigan, will need to fast-forward through some dross to isolate the meaningful bits from the visit by the Premier League's worst travellers to the headquarters of the top flight's worst home team.

The Stoke side Wenger saw fit to lambast last weekend were by far the less adventurous of the two but ended probably the more satisfied after an unsightly stalemate that again showed how Tony Pulis's survival plan is based on pragmatism rather than qualities any neutral would pay to watch.

Outstanding though some of Stoke's defending was, especially in a Wigan-dominated second half of innumerable blocks and headed clearances, the threat they carried apart from corners and Rory Delap's notorious long throws was negligible.

"We were the team trying to win it," said Wigan's manager, Steve Bruce. "Stoke are going to do it their way and, whatever we all say, it's hard to play against them.

"Wimbledon did it years ago and these [players] are also big, strong and well-drilled. My real quality players, the ones I look to for opening up a defence... it just wasn't their day."

A first half illuminated only by comfortably saved 25-yarders from Antonio Valencia and Amr Zaki suggestedWigan's win at Portsmouth had not lifted all the gloom from their earlier run of four defeats. Stoke kept them at arm's length all too easily until, in the final half-hour, they were at least made to toil to double their away-points tally. Emile Heskey launched the barrage by diving to head wide Valencia's cross, the last contribution to his 400th career League start beforedeparting with a hamstring problem his manager says might make him doubtful for England in 10 days' time.

Zaki then missed the opportunity to move ahead of Nicolas Anelka as the Premier League's leading scorer when failing to get over headers from crosses by Jason Koumas and Maynor Figueroa, but Thomas Sorensen remained little troubled, apart from blocking well with his legs from Wilson Palacios and with his upstretched hand from Titus Bramble.

Stoke's main imprints on the game were the shoving match in which their central defender Abdoulaye Faye indulged with his own team-mates during one second-half exchange – an incident Pulis saw as symbolic of their passion to succeed – and a possible gesture by Ricardo Fuller to the crowd. Like the game, they were unsavoury moments, best forgotten.