A game of few chances between Sheffield Wednesday and Stoke City resulted in a goalless draw and a share of the spoils at Hillsborough.
Wednesday came into the game off the back of a respectable 1-1 draw away at Swansea. Recently appointed manager Tony Pulis made three changes against the club at which he enjoyed his best spell as a manager. Wildsmith, Harris and Shaw all came in for Westwood, Rhodes and Odubajo.
Stoke were determined to avenge the late heartbreak from their previous 3-2 loss against Norwich, and manager Michael O’Neill made four changes to his starting side. Collins, Chester, McClean and Gregory replacing Tymon, Smith, Fletcher and Souttar – who was self-isolating due to COVID-19.
Kick off was preceded by a touching tribute to the late Diego Maradona, who sadly passed away earlier in the week.
In what was expected to be a battle of wit and tactics, the game began slowly as both sides found their feet and were patient in the build-up.
The first real chance came for the hosts on sixteen minutes, as winger Harris was afforded too much time on the edge of the box and flashed an effort wide of Bursik’s left-hand post.
It was another game and yet another injury blow up-front for the Potters, as Lee Gregory looked to have a groin problem after jumping for an aerial ball and landing awkwardly. Sam Vokes was the man to replace him, with twenty-five minutes gone.
That was the last thing Michael O’Neill needed, with first choice forward Steven Fletcher already out after picking up an injury in their defeat to Norwich.
Wednesday defender Shaw was first to go into the referee’s book for a foul on the edge of the box, with the resulting set piece considerably blazed over by James McClean.
The game began to peter out, and with the referee’s half time whistle came the relief that a very dull period of football was finally over. Things could only get more entertaining in the second half.
Joe Bursik had been the busier of the two ‘keepers, with Wednesday having the only real chances of note. The young stopper had dealt well with the aerial threat that the hosts had posed.
Half Time: Sheffield Wednesday 0-0 Stoke City
The hosts made a solitary change at half time, with Jordan Rhodes on for Liam Shaw. It was a statement of attacking intent from manager Pulis.
Stoke’s first big chance of the second half came five minutes after the restart, as a corner swung from the right was met by Sam Vokes, only for his header to be saved at point-blank range by Wildsmith in the Wednesday goal.
A few minutes later and it was Vokes again to meet another teasing cross in, but his header was blocked by a Wednesday defender and cleared away. The game had begun to open up with both teams trying to edge ahead.
Rhodes had looked to be bearing down on the City goal, but the long, bouncing ball was put into the stands by a covering Danny Batth before it could reach the penalty area and trouble Bursik.
City’s injury woes looked to be extended, as John Obi-Mikel went down after the hour mark clutching his leg. However, the 33-year-old continued to play through the pain.
Nathan Collins was the first Stoke player to be yellow carded, for a foul on Harris as the winger looked to be breaking away.
Wednesday were starting to mount pressure in the Stoke half, but to no avail as the game continued to lack big chances for either side.
Obi-Mikel finally succumbed to his earlier injury, and made way for Jordan Cousins on seventy-five minutes. The midfielder’s first port of call was to receive a booking for a late challenge.
It was still all to play for as the game creeped into the last ten minutes, and Michael O’Neill sent Jacob Brown on to offer more pace for his side in attack, in place of James McClean.
In an event rarely seen in football, earlier substitute Rhodes was taken off with five minutes to go for Izzy Brown. Tony Pulis had clearly not been happy with the striker’s effect on the game.
Just as Tyrese Campbell had looked to catch Wednesday on the break, he was scythed down by midfielder Luongo. The challenge earned the Australian international his fourth yellow card of the season.
It took until ninety-one minutes gone for the best chance of the game to come, and it was the visitors that should have snatched the points at the death. A lofted free kick was poorly dealt with and the ball found Sam Vokes 8 yards out, with his snapshot producing a vital reflex save from Wednesday goalie Wildsmith. It would have been a harsh end for Wednesday, after they had defended valiantly all game.
Tyrese Campbell’s poor free kick was met with the referee’s full time whistle, and the team shared the spoils on a drab, misty afternoon in Sheffield.
Full Time: Sheffield Wednesday 0-0 Stoke City
Man of the Match: Joe Wildsmith
It was far from a classic at Hillsborough, as neither side was able to take the initiative and put a three extra points on the board. The visitors dominated possession but only fashioned two shots on target, with the hosts not having even one.
Stoke’s Pulis curse goes on, with the Potters’ still yet to beat their former manager seven years on from his departure from the Potteries.
Both managers will take clean sheets as huge positives, after neither side fielded their first choices between the sticks. Neither defence made mistakes, nor allowed opposing attackers to dominate them.
The shared point leaves the hosts still in twenty-third place, whilst the visitors remain in eighth position. Next up, Sheffield Wednesday face the visit of Reading to Hillsborough, whilst Stoke travel down south to Wycombe.
Match report by Oliver Walton.