It may be that the international break undercut the momentum of three successive league wins. It certainly robbed Town of Colwill and Sinani, both deemed too fragile to appear, as Corberán left them on the bench and opted for Holmes and Sarr in their place.
Long on endeavour and short on quality or inspiration, both sides worked hard to cancel each other out for long periods with the first half bogged down with mediocrity and defensive dominance. The second 45 delivered a few moments for both but overall the contest will not live long in the memory.
With Thomas shackled and Koroma suffering a poor afternoon, Town’s threat was too predictable and sporadic, not helped by a lack of midfield thrust. To their credit, Stoke stifled the visitors’ threats to the level of futility slightly more effectively than Town did to theirs, resulting in a narrow home victory.
A bright start by the Terriers soon faded and neither side could produce a decent effort on goal. The flow of the game wasn’t helped by Town’s time-wasting at dead balls, set pieces and throw-ins, an unattractive trait that has a big propensity for blowback; having to chase an equaliser late on, for example.
Stoke themselves were not averse to a tactical foul or two to disrupt their opponent, and a better referee would have punished both sides earlier which may have elevated the game above the desperately mundane.
The first half may have been fascinating for tactical purists, but an extended yawn for the rest of us.
An early goal for Town in the second half promised to open up proceedings. In keeping with the overall tenor of the fixture, it was a scruffy affair with Toffolo taking advantage of a loose ball following a decent Thomas free-kick delivery and, at last, a shot on target saved by the keeper’s legs.
Having broken through, the fate of the points rested on Town clinging to their lead with defensive solidity, discipline and, inevitably, more of that time-wasting (which would, at least, have more of a point than in the opening twenty minutes).
Such ambition was crushed within minutes as an excellent corner found a Potter’s head, without challenge, and the home side was level.
To Town’s credit, they always strived to get on the front foot but had neither the guile nor the physicality to break down the hosts’ solid organisation and looked increasingly vulnerable to the counter.
Perhaps the own goal was karma for the Preston game and left the visitors with a huge task to salvage a point from the encounter.
One decent effort from Thomas aside (which was just wide), they never looked like coming back.
It certainly wasn’t for lack of effort, but Stoke were defensively excellent, epitomised by a sequence whereby three successive shots were blocked by committed home players.
The introduction of Sinani and Mipo was too late to change the course of events. The youngster barely got a touch in his ten-minute cameo, though Sinani and Turton (on for Lees as Town went to a back four) created more space for Thomas on the right. When personnel allows, Thomas will surely be pushed further up the pitch.
A routine defeat away to a well organised and physical side is not a cause for concern, and few have got carried away by a short spell of good results which demanded contextual scrutiny, but it was a day to quickly forget.