MARK HUGHES will undoubtedly toast his side’s spirit this evening after the Potters claimed a thoroughly deserved point against Southampton.
Whilst the City boss made no secret of the fact that he wanted maximum spoils in what was his 400th Premier league game as manager, the fact that his troops managed to secure a point, despite playing the vast majority of the fixture with just 10 men, will delight him.
Marko Arnautovic’s dismissal midway through the first-half swung the odds dramatically in the visitors favour, but despite their numerical advantage they couldn’t find an avenue beyond a rugged and determined Stoke backline.
On-loan Derby County ‘keeper Lee Grant chipped in with a couple of pivotal saves, but on the whole he didn’t have a great deal to do as his determined teammates largely frustrated Claude Puel’s potent frontline.
Ryan Shawcross was outstanding on his return to action after missing the previous three fixtures through injury whilst the likes of Glen Johnson, Bruno Martins Indi and Erik Pieters all produced equally as heroic performances.
In fact, not one home player left an ounce on the field, and they were all duly rewarded for their efforts with a 20th top-flight point of the term.
Both sides had opportunites to break the deadlock prior to Arnautovic’s sending off, with the outstanding Joe Allen forcing Fraser Forster into a superb early save whilst at the other end Grant had to be alert to thwart both Nathan Redmond and Shane Long.
The evenly-balanced encounter turned in the Saints’ favour when referee Anthony Taylor brandished his red card to Arnautovic, who was adjudged to have unnecessarily shown his stoods as he challenged Sofiane Boufal.
The dismissal infuriated the vocal home supporters, and they united in unison with their players, who defended with bravery, determination and commitment as they looked to claim a positive result from the fixture.
Whilst the visitors enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, it was Hughes’ men who showed greater grit and determination, winning the majority of the 50/50 battles and pressing and harrying the visitors into mistakes.
On the odd occasion the Saints were able to forge a sight at goal they found Grant in inspired form, with the stopper producing outstanding saves to deny Ryan Bertrand, from distance, and James Ward-Prowse.
Substitute Jay Rodriguez was guilty of spurning his side’s best opportunity of the evening, opting to attack Boufal’s ball across the six-yard box with his favoured right foot, instead of the more naturally positioned left one.
At the other end, the spirited and tireless Jon Walters, who carried out his duties on the night outstandingly well, forced Forster into a save at his near post after being freed down the left by Charlie Adam.
Mame Diouf, a late substitute, carried on the good work out wide by Xherdan Shaqiri, and offered pace and strength in the attacking areas but arguably more importantly, a tremendous desire to help his side stave off the threat of the Saints at the other end.
Whilst the game may not be one to last too long in the memory of the neutrals at the bet365 Stadium, it is certainly one that Hughes and his side will take enormous pride from, from a defensive point of view.