Stoke secured a point at Huddersfield Town after a contentious red card decision left them holding on for the second 45 minutes.
The Potters needed to get their season back on track sooner rather than later, with an ever-increasing gap opening up between them and the playoff places.
Without a win in eight in all competitions, Michael O’Neill made three changes to the side that lost 2-1 to Watford eight days earlier. Angus Gunn made a long awaited return after being sidelined since November 7th, replacing Joe Bursik who dropped to the bench. Jordan Thompson came in for Sam Clucas, and Steven Fletcher replaced Nick Powell- who had picked up a hamstring injury.
Nathan Collins retained his place at right back, despite speculation circling that the young defender was on his way to the Premier League in the January transfer window.
Huddersfield were similarly in a rough patch of form, the hosts being without a win in their last five. Their recent slump found them languishing in mid-table, eight points from the relegation zone and 11 off the playoffs.
The Terriers had had a big injury list going into the game, with key players such as Hogg, Diakhaby, Stearman, Eiting, Koroma and Schindler still all sidelined. Carlos Corberan named an unchanged team from a 2-1 loss to Bristol City in the week.
The return fixture served up an exciting affair with Stoke running out 4-3 winners back in November. Last season’s game at the John Smith’s Stadium was no different too, as Stoke ran out 5-2 winners on New Year’s Day in West Yorkshire.
The game began with Stoke on the back foot, as the hosts were playing around them with relative ease.
The deadlock was then broken inside five minutes, and it was all too simple for the Terriers to find an opener.
A cross was not cleared and fell to Mbenza, and the winger pulled the ball back to Pipa on the edge of the box. The Spaniard’s resulting shot took a slight deflection and nestled in the bottom corner, leaving Gunn with no chance.
It was a dream start for the hosts, but a nightmare for Stoke.
The visitors began to grow into the game after the goal, but the game lacked any big chances.
Stoke could have found a leveller on 20 minutes, as Jack Clarke chipped a ball into the onrushing Joe Allen, but the Welshman was thwarted by some good defending by Vallejo.
Huddersfield then went down the other end and could have doubled their lead, but Campbell placed a free header inches wide.
Just three minutes later, and the hosts handed City a lifeline to get back into the game, as Sarr tripped up Clarke just inside the box and the referee pointed to the spot.
Steven Fletcher was the man to step up, and he made no mistake in sending keeper Schofield the wrong way to level the game on 24 minutes.
𝗡𝗼 mistake 💪
— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) January 30, 2021
Both teams settled into the game, but neither could put each other on the back foot and take the incentive to get another goal.
Stoke fashioned an opportunity with minutes of the half left, but Clarke’s shot was blocked after the ball had fell to him in the box.
The game looked to be petering out up to the half time whistle, but with the two minutes added on almost up, Rhys Norrington-Davies gave the referee a big decision to make as he recklessly dived into a challenge with Bacuna.
It was certainly contentious, but referee Ward saw fit to send the left back off, and Stoke would have to play out the second period with ten men.
RED CARD FOR STOKE! 🔴
Rhys Norrington-Davies was sent off on the stroke of half-time for this challenge on Bacuna. Is this a red card for you?
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) January 30, 2021
Half time: Huddersfield 1-1 Stoke City
Huddersfield had certainly started the game brighter, but allowed Stoke to come back into the game through their own faults.
The Potters saw the half out well and could have snatched another goal, but the red card would now mean their focus would be on seeing out the game and taking a point.
Carlos Corberan would now expect his team to ask questions of the Stoke backline, and anything less than three points would be failure.
As expected, Huddersfield were the team doing most of the attacking as the second period commenced, limiting the visitors to counter attacks and short passages of play on the ball.
It was the home side with the first good opportunity of the half on 57 minutes. Some good interplay saw Aarons with the ball on the left wing and he found O’Brien, with the midfielder firing a first time shot onto Gunn’s bar.
It was a let off for what had been a resolute Stoke defence up to that point in the half. James McClean had switched to left back following the sending off.
The hosts kept on pushing, but were still searching for the lead as the game creeped into the last ten minutes.
It was clear how much the Terriers lacked a goalscorer, with Campbell looking out of sorts and with just five goals to his name all season.
A brilliant cross from substitute Holmes had no takers in the box, and it was still defence versus attack as the minutes passed by.
Harry Souttar had Stoke’s best chance of the half, but his header from a corner was mistimed and went out for a goal kick.
Gavin Ward had another huge call to make one minute into added time, after Campbell fell to the deck in the box as he had looked to be in on goal, claiming a foul by Angus Gunn.
The man in the middle wasn’t to be fooled by the veteran striker’s gamesmanship though, and a goal kick was given.
The hosts kept pushing for the winner, but it was not to be and the full time whistle was blown with 94 minutes on the clock.
Full time: Huddersfield Town 1-1 Stoke City
Michael O’Neill would certainly go home the happier of the two managers, after his team had defended well to see out the game.
Despite a valuable point, he would be frustrated at how the sending off changed the game and meant that Stoke had to defend rather than go out and try to win the game.
💭 MON discusses this afternoon's draw against @htafc in West Yorkshire.
📺 Listen to the boss on YouTube.#SCFC 🔴⚪️
— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) January 30, 2021
Huddersfield will be kicking themselves at a missed opportunity to get their first three points of 2021, but there were encouraging signs at least for Carlos Corberan’s side.
Questions will be asked about their poor goal return in recent weeks, and if they will be looking for reinforcements with the transfer window set to close in two days.
Both teams’ seasons are on a knife-edge at the minute, with wins needed in upcoming games if either club is to make something of this campaign.
Stoke sit 10th in the table, with Reading up next at the bet365 Stadium. Huddersfield move up to 14th and travel to Luton next week.
Match report by Oliver Walton.