Stoke City missed the opportunity to climb into the Championship play-off places as they were held to a goalless draw at struggling Sheffield Wednesday.
Michael O’Neill’s side have been free-scoring of late, but the manager could at least take comfort from a clean sheet and a point on the road in a difficult game.
On the game
It was a match of very few chances as Tony Pulis’ side defended solidly from deep and restricted their opportunities to attack as they would like.
“It was a different game,” reflected O’Neill, whose team had scored at least two goals in each of the previous four matches.
“They obviously defended deep and we had to try and create space as much as anything. It’s difficult to get in behind them.
“They’ll have watched the threat of (Tyrese) Campbell in particular and tried to make sure that didn’t happen. We didn’t get in as many good areas as we have in other games.”
On the clean sheet
While Stoke were unsuccessful at one end of the pitch, they did at least keep a fifth clean sheet of the season with James Chester and Danny Batth providing a solid defensive partnership in the absence of the self-isolating Harry Souttar, while centre-back Nathan Collins did well filling in on the right side of the defence.
“Clean sheets are really important for confidence,” said O’Neill. “In the early part of the season we kept a lot of clean sheets and I think that helped us a bit with confidence.
“We’ve been pretty free scoring as well bit today we couldn’t manage to find the goal. On these kinds of days it’s important you don’t concede, because it’s very easy for us to lose a game of that nature.
“Chezzy (Chester) was excellent, as was Nathan, Danny and the whole back four. I thought they defended very well, (as did) the midfield in front.”
There were a couple of enforced substitutions for O’Neill, with striker Lee Gregory coming off with a groin injury in the early stages of the game and midfielder John Obi Mikel withdrawn with a calf complaint in the second half.
The manager said that Gregory’s injury will need to be assessed but that he has little chance of featuring in their next fixture at Wycombe Wanderers on Wednesday, while Mikel just “had a tightness in his calf.”
O’Neill added: “We’re in a situation where we’re getting these injuries because of the workload on the players, and we don’t want to take risks because we don’t want to lose them for any longer than necessary.
“We’re already down two goalkeepers, we’re still waiting on Joe (Allen) and Ryan (Shawcross) coming back, Jordan Thompson is out, Steven Fletcher is out. We’re missing quite a lot at the minute.”