Sunderland's rather ambiguous and shot-shy start to the season continued with a 0-0 draw in the Potteries. It wasn't pretty or exciting, but it was probably a decent point.
If football, as so many of us insist, is more of a lifestyle choice than it is a hobby, then this was no way to live. It was turgid, lacking of any attacking quality, and Sunderland once again showed precious little signs of adventure.
But one thing it did do was satisfy the form book. Both teams this season have been hard to beat, but also managed just one win a piece. May be a draw was inevitable before kick off. Perhaps we could have got the pools panel to decide this one and saved ourselves this little glimpse at a life devoid of joy and imagination.
I could be being a little harsh. There actually was plenty of quality on show. The problem was, it was all at the wrong ends of the pitch. For all we can criticize both sides for struggling when they had the ball, we have to acknowledge both were excellent without it. The problem was what it did for the game as a spectacle. It was as cynical encounter as you could ever fear seeing.
Once the dust settles, Sunderland will likely regard it as a decent point. Mark Holmes on Fan Focus this week made the point that we would probably all be relatively content with the results this season had the games been in isolation rather than a run. This one only really adds to that. Any point at Stoke tends to be a good one.
The first half was actually fairly promising in spells. Both teams were defying their reputations and there was barely a long ball in sight. Stoke didn't attempt a single long throw all afternoon. It was two teams who were at least trying to produce some football.
There was endeavor and a few half chances. Danny Rose threw himself heroically to protect his goal from range following a free kick he had given away, and Simon Mignolet denied Ryan Shawcross with a routine save from the rebound.
At the other end, Carlos Cuellar flashed a header wide from a deep and straight Sebastian Larsson free kick. The fact those two were the tangible sum of the first half probably should have told us what to expect from the second.
After the break, the home side pushed. That was not unexpected. They had to try and seize the initiative. They started brightly but the game was disrupted by a nasty injury to their left back Marc Wilson.
The Irishman went down and stayed down whilst challenging Steven Fletcher for the ball. It was innocuous. Had a Sunderland player gone down under such circumstances, the home fans would have surely bayed for blood amidst accusations of play-acting. But it became apparent the injury was a serious one, and perhaps there is a lesson to be learned for the Stoke fans (and manager) who vilified David Meyler back in February. The stands is no place from which to lay down judgement on injuries or potential injuries.
The football, meanwhile, continued to disappoint. Again, half chances came and went. Adam Johnson fired a long range effort just over, and substitute Stephane Sessegnon, who looked to have a spring back in his step after being dropped to the bench, caused problems. The Benin man seized possession high up the pitch and set up Steven Fletcher, who turned inside and looked to arrow one towards the far corner, only to see it met by the arm of Robert Huth. Case for a penalty? May be. But sanity probably prevailed.
The further the game progressed, however, the more there looked like only one side that could win it. Stoke pressed higher and higher up the pitch and pegged their visitors back. But Mignolet was up to the task, twice denying Robert Huth and causing enough of an obstacle to prevent Peter Crouch a sight of goal when slipped through at the death. It was Michael Kightly who had the big chance from the ensuing scramble, though, firing wide after stepping inside Phil Bardsley. He should have done better.
Although, if he had of done better and won the game for his team, it would have been an injustice. Not to either of the teams but to football itself. No one deserved to benefit from this violation of our game!