A lack of quality in the final third saw Stoke City be held to a goalless draw at home to Preston North End.
In a game of few chances, a draw appeared to be the fair result as the Potters really struggled to find a way to break down the visitors’ three at the back system.
Although, late on the hosts were sent down to ten men when Harry Souttar received a red card for bringing Alan Browne down when he was through on goal.
However, despite putting on late pressure Preston failed to capitalise on the man advantage as Stoke saw the point over the line.
Story of the game
After a quiet start to the encounter, the Potters had a shout for a penalty inside eight minutes when Christian Norton went tumbling over under a challenge from Sepp Van Den Berg, but the referee immediately waved away the claims.
The home side were starting to dominate possession without really being able to break down Preston's backline as Josh Tymon was found cleverly from a corner kick routine on the 18th-minute mark, but his volley was blocked away.
A minute later Tommy Smith was found in space, but his sighter arrowed narrowly over Daniel Iversen's crossbar.
Then a couple of minutes before the half an hour mark, Michael O'Neill's side really should have taken a deserved lead when an excellent Rhys Norrington Davies pass found Tymon through onside.
But with only Iverson to beat, the 21-year-old could only fire a low shot at the legs of the goalkeeper with his follow up smashing the side netting.
The Lilywhites tried to instantly respond to this warning when Ryan Ledson hit an effort from range, but it flew a couple of yards wide of the left-hand post.
The Potters did continue to maintain control of the game with Nick Powell being the next one to have a pop, but his long-range strike was parried to safety by Iverson.
The midfielder was again involved with Stoke's next effort nine minutes before the interval, after his tricky and quick feet found a way into the box, but off-balanced he fired the ball well over the crossbar.
With the hosts clearly being the ones on top, Iverson was forced into another smart stop a couple of minutes before the break, when a Norton ball from the left ricocheted off Ben Whitman, and the visiting goalkeeper had to react quickly to turn the ball behind.
After the break, in a similar pattern to the first period, Stoke started the brighter as a Souttar deflected header looped on to the crossbar and over only a few minutes after the restart.
However, after a new surge of energy from Frankie McAvoy's side in the second half, they may feel that they should have broken the deadlock just after the hour mark.
This was when Ched Evans was found unmarked inside the area by a Tom Barkhuisen cross from the right, but the forward's header sailed over the crossbar.
Four minutes later the hosts should have taken the lead themselves when Souttar rose highest to corner kick from the left, but with the goal gaping, after Iverson misjudged the flight of the ball, the centre back was unable to direct his header on target.
With the game really opening up, minutes later Andrew Hughes rattled the post for the away side when his low shot from a free-kick routine rebounded off the woodwork and away to safety.
Then with just over 15 minutes remaining and the game really up for the taking, Stoke did have the ball in the back of the net when Steven Fletcher headed home Powell's cross from deep.
However, the goal was ruled out due to the striker being adjudged to be in an offside position.
Four minutes later Adam Davies was forced into his first meaningful save of the afternoon as he did well to keep a hold of Barkhuisen well-struck effort from range.
Then with only three minutes remaining with Browne bearing down on goal, Souttar brought down the midfielder to stop him from having a clear sight of goal, but in doing so, the 22-year-old received his marching orders.
A minute later Browne really should have done better with his half volley inside the area as he scuffed his effort as the ball dribbled well wide of Davies' goal.
Then in stoppage time with Preston looking to snatch away all three points, when given space outside the area Ledson was only able to curl the ball over the crossbar.
A few moments later, the Potters went up the other end when substitute Joran Brown capitalised on to a Jordan Storey loose pass.
The winger managed to round Iverson but his tame shot was cleared away by Hughes, as neither side found the cutting edge to earn the victory.
Another clean sheet for the Potters
Today’s result set a landmark of 20 clean sheets for Stoke so far this season and for the majority of the gam,e their backline was rarely troubled as O’Neill’s four at the back were organised and sturdy.
Rhys Norrington-Davies who usually plays as a wing-back was utilised in the back three today and look comfortable in that role for the 90 minutes.
This is something that will have pleased O’Neill and potentially fill him with ease that he can trust playing the Sheffield United loanee in the same role in the future.
The fact that for the majority of this season Stoke have looked so solid at the back, with play-offs out of the question, the Potters defensive structure is something that can be used as a platform to build on going into next season.
The former Northern Ireland boss will just look in the summer to improve his side’s quality with the ball in particular in the final third of the pitch.
Lilywhites comfortably coped well without Lindsay
Stoke loanee Liam Lindsay was today unavailable for selection for Preston due to him not being allowed to play for his parent club and Van Den Berg was brought into the back three as his replacement.
Before the game, the absence of Lindsay may have been something of a concern for the side that are currently managerless.
However, they coped very well with it as even at times when the home side were piling on the pressure, Preston’s back three dealt with the majority of situations without any real issues.
With this being the case, Lindsay may find it difficult to jump straight back into the team for Preston’s next game at home to Derby County, as after the back three impressed today, depending on fitness levels, McAvoy may be tempted to stick with the same defensive personnel.
Star Player- Sepp Van Den Berg
The Liverpool loanee was brought from wing back into Preston’s back three for today’s visit to the Bet365 Stadium and he dealt really well with any of the threat that Stoke had to offer.
He particularly did well in reading the late runs from full debutant Norton who was quick on his feet and was keen to get in behind the Lillywhites defence.
However, Van Den Berg throughout the entirety of the game tracked the 19-year old’s runs really well and did not give him much space to cause too many problems for Iverson.
His positional sense was something that will have impressed McAvoy as well as he was rarely caught off guard or out of position.
This was especially the case when Stoke had the ball in wide areas and his whole performance will be something that the interim manager will have to bear in mind when they go into their next fixture in midweek against the Rams.