SUNDERLAND, February 2 – Sunderland failed to halt their slide towards the relegation quagmire after Stoke claimed a deserved point in an uninspiring goalless stalemate here on Monday.
The draw means Steve Bruce’s side, who started the season in such promising fashion they were being tipped as contenders for Europe, have now won only once in their last 14 league matches and they are just four points above the bottom three.
Stoke had the better of the chances, with former Sunderland player Dean Whitehead enjoying a couple of good chances, although the hosts could justifiably claim they had been denied a second-half penalty following an apparent handball by Robert Huth.
Sunderland manager Steve Bruce was admirably blunt on his assessment of the match – entertainment wise that is.
"It was an abysmal game to be honest," said the 49-year-old.
"You want three points to end the run we have been enjoying but while we were nervous and edgy at least the commitment and resilience, which has been lacking, was there.
"This might be the springboard we need."
Whitehead had the best chance of a lacklustre opening period with less than three minutes on the clock.
The forward did well to get clear of the home side’s back line but his tame shot was comfortably smothered by Scotland goalkeeper Craig Gordon.
Kenwyne Jones forced Thomas Sorensen into his first save of the evening in the 10th minute but the Trinidad and Tobago forward could not generate enough power in his shot after Michael Turner had headed down Andy Reid’s free-kick invitingly.
Steed Malbranque was narrowly off target and it required a smart clearance from Ryan Shawcross to prevent Darren Bent from opening the scoring.
Bent then created an opening for Malbranque with a cute dummy but the Frenchman’s shot did not seriously test Sorensen.
Whitehead was fortunate that referee Howard Webb appeared to be in a lenient mood, dispensing only a booking after the Stoke player kicked out at Lee Cattermole following a robust challenge from Sunderland’s midfield enforcer.
Sunderland had just about edged the first half on points, but Stoke should have taken the lead after generating two good chances in quick succession in the opening minutes of the second half.
Mamady Sidibe almost converted following a chipped Glenn Whelan free-kick, then Whitehead attempted to drill home the loose ball only for John Mensah to deflect it over the crossbar.
Sunderland had a strong penalty appeal turned down just after the hour mark when Huth appeared to stop Bent’s lofted pass with his arm.
But Stoke might easily have emerged with all three points after Ricardo Fuller was sent clear with nine minutes left. The striker had only Gordon to beat but the Scots stopper stood firm to deny him, ensuring a result which was probably just about right.