Draw specialists Stoke were at it again as they shared the points with Reading on a wet afternoon in the Potteries.
Stoke headed into the game after successfully grinding out a point against Huddersfield last weekend, despite playing the second half with ten men.
The sending off meant Rhys Norrington-Davies was to sit out for three games, but Stoke were able to welcome Morgan Fox back into the fold as his replacement, with the Welshman recovered from the hamstring injury that had seen him ruled out for six weeks.
It was a week too soon for Nick Powell’s hamstring though, and Stoke once again had to contend without their key man. The two other changes saw Clucas come in for Thompson, and Batth replacing Chester who had been ruled out through injury.
It had been a busy week at the bet365 since the Potters’ last game, with fringe men Lindsay, Ince, Gregory, Bauer and Wimmer all heading out on loan. Harry Souttar had also signed a new long-term contract at the club.
Reading were in impressive form in the lead up to the encounter, with three wins, one draw and one loss in their previous five games. The Royals had beaten fellow promotion hopefuls Bournemouth 3-1 last time out, and so looked to continue their hot streak in the Potteries.
Manager Paunovic named an unchanged team from that game, with the only change on the bench as Baldock replaced Onen. Man-in-form Lucas Joao would be looking to add to his tally of 15 goals in the Championship this season.
The Royals would be hoping for a better game than the reverse fixture, with Stoke winning 3-0 at the Madejski Stadium in November.
𝗧 𝗘 𝗔 𝗠
— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) February 6, 2021
Inside four minutes, Stoke fashioned the first slight opening, but Collins’ marauding run resulted in a poor cross that Clucas could not divert towards goal.
It was clear how comfortable the Royals were on the ball, as they enjoyed most of the early possession.
John Swift’s dangerous free kick was cleared well by Gunn, as was the resulting corner from Olise after eight minutes.
Stoke began to have a bit more of the ball, but no further chances had been created after a quarter of an hour.
The Potters’ midfielders were doing a stellar job of harrying their opponents and snuffing out any danger, but there was a lack of link up with the isolated Fletcher.
Referee Tim Robinson had a decision to make after 24 minutes, as McClean fell to the ground in the box claiming a touch from defender McIntyre. The Irishman was instead booked for diving, a decision that was correct upon replay.
The Potters continued to press, and had the ball in the net after 28 minutes.
Clarke burst forward on the left hand side, and his inch perfect cross was headed back by McClean into Fletcher’s path, and diverted brilliantly into the back of the net by the veteran striker.
The goal was quickly ruled out by the linesman for offside though, it was another big decision made by the officials.
— Pete Smith (@PeteSmith1983) February 6, 2021
It was the home side that continued to look the most likely and Batth was next to flash a header over from a set piece.
John Obi-Mikel’s barnstorming run resulted in a poor first time shot from McClean from the edge of the box, another great opportunity wasted on 43 minutes.
Reading were struggling to get a foot on the ball as the half ended, with the Stoke defenders keeping their attacking threats very quiet.
Half time: Stoke 0-0 Reading
With the first period over, the visitors could count themselves lucky not to be a goal down.
After weathering an early storm, Stoke had taken the incentive and looked the more dangerous side for a large part of the half.
Both teams had defended well and it looked to be a single goal that would decide the tie in the second 45 minutes.
Stoke began the second period how they ended the first, enjoying some good possession and looking to get in behind the Reading defence.
The weather began to affect the play as the second half commenced, with the pitch getting slippier by the minute as the rain bounced off the bet365 Stadium surface.
It was Collins again bursting into the Reading area, but his pull-back was left unconverted yet again as some good defending saw the ball cleared.
The hour mark came and went, with Reading starting to grow back into the game ever so slightly.
Ejaria let a shot off for his side’s first big chance of the half on 76 minutes, but it was easy for Gunn to gather.
Stoke were looking increasingly desperate up front and leggy in midfield, but Michael O’Neill kept his first substitute waiting until 82 minutes with Brown replacing Clarke.
The winger was then lucky to escape his marching orders after kicking Reading’s Morrison in the face with a high boot, picking up just a yellow just minutes after coming on.
As the clock ticked into added time, Stoke began to look the more likely to score again.
Substitute Jordan Cousins’ header was parried away by the Reading keeper with the ball destined for the bottom corner, on 91 minutes.
Yakou Meite smashed the ball wide from a corner for the last play of the game, and the points were shared in Staffordshire.
Full time: Stoke 0-0 Reading
MOTM: Harry Souttar
It was a game of few clear-cut chances, with both sides lacking a real threat upfront on the day.
Michael O’Neill will feel his side deserved all three points, but it was clear how much they missed Nick Powell yet again.
The Stoke players will be encouraged by the all-round performance though, after they kept a top six side relatively quiet for large spells of the game.
Veljko Paunović will want more from his team in upcoming games if they are to maintain their position in the playoff places.
A point from any game is respectable though, so he will head back to Berkshire content with his side’s showing.
Stoke sit ninth in the league and travel to Norwich next weekend, whilst Reading move up to fourth and take on Brentford in the week.
Match report by Oliver Walton.