Stoke City produced an herculean defensive performance to grind out a goalless draw against Southampton at the Bet365 Stadium on Wednesday evening after they were forced to play out two thirds of the match with ten men following Marko Arnautovic’s early sending off.
The Austrian international was given his marching orders in the twenty-third minute after a poor challenge on Sofiane Boufal and The Potters hung on resiliently to their clean sheet against wave after wave of Southampton attacks. There was certainly no malice in Arnautovic’s tackle as the Stoke City winger competed for a bouncing ball close to the touchline, but his studs were raised and clearly caught his opposite number high on the thigh. The lack of protests or appeals from both himself and his colleagues suggested that the red card came as little surprise.
Up until the sending off the game had been a relatively open and even contest with both sides creating a number of decent goal scoring opportunities. Joe Allen capitalised on Xherdan Shaqiri’s clever reverse pass to force a good save out of Fraser Forster whilst the visitors wasted a number of openings including when both Shane Long and Nathan Redmond both failed to hit the target despite finding themselves in good positions.
However, the red card changed the dynamic of the contest and it quickly became apparent that the home side were content to defend deep and try and hold on for a point. Southampton dominated possession (71%) and, despite pinning The Potters into their own half for long spells, they struggled to create any clear-cut goal scoring opportunities. Substitute Jay Rodriguez had the best chance of the match but he was unable to make any contact with Boufal’s low, driven cross when even the slightest of touches from close range would have resulted in The Saints taking the lead.
For Mark Hughes, celebrating his 400th match as a Premier League manager, this result demonstrated that his side have found a resilience, defensive solidarity and character that was lacking in the opening months of the season. The final whistle was celebrated like a victory by management, players and supporters alike and the point solidifies Stoke’s position in mid-table. Meanwhile Claude Puel will recognise that this was a missed opportunity to secure a victory on the road and The Saint’s supporters will have left the stadium with concerns over their team’s lack of creativity against ten-men.
Here’s three things we learnt from last night’s feisty clash…