Martin Smith: Potters need to find solution to scoring problem
STOKE went into last week's match with just one win from 15 games, while Sunderland had one in 14. With both teams finding goals difficult to come by, it was hardly a shock that the game finished goalless.
It all comes down to goals and Stoke's continuing issue with finding the back of the net.
We all knew that Sunderland wouldn't pose too much of a threat – their second highest league scorer this season is Newcastle's Demba Ba – and the only serious question was whether we could break the deadlock.
Despite a spirited last 20 minutes, we just didn't have the cutting edge to break down a team who defended deep and refused to commit too many men forward.
At times, our visitors were like us in their approach – looking so frightened by the prospect of defeat that they were afraid to try to win.
If our season is to really get going then we're going to have to start winning a few games, and to do that we're going to need to start scoring a few more goals.
The question now for Tony Pulis is how he achieves that, but it's not as though we're without options.
Our manager may have gone for a 4-5-1 system in recent weeks, with Peter Crouch up front on his own, Jon Walters on the wing and Charlie Adam in a floating role across the front line.
But we have the likes of Kenwyne Jones, Cameron Jerome and Michael Owen kicking their heels on the sidelines, with Matthew Etherington also looking to get involved.
We might have to explore some of those options in the not-too-distant future.
We can't afford to allow too many games to slip past without adding some numbers to the 'win column'.
Let's be realistic. It's hardly as though we're enduring any type of crisis, so there's no need for anyone to start getting stressed out.
But we are still waiting for 2012 to get going and for this Stoke side, with its fine collection of individual players, to really click into gear and begin to realise their undoubted potential.
I did say last week that we're still waiting to see what role Owen has at the club and that remains a big question for many Stoke supporters.
On Saturday, we got to see him for a fairly decent run-out in the second half, though many fans were a little confused to see him operating mostly in midfield.
His greatest attribute is that he's a poacher and a goalscorer – perhaps the most naturally gifted English striker since Gary Lineker – but at the moment we don't seem willing to throw him forward.
Our manager has obviously forgotten more about football coaching than I'll ever know and perhaps this is all part of some wider plan to get the player fully fit and incorporate him most efficiently into the starting line-up.
If it is, then we can only hope everything comes together as soon as possible and that we can improve on a goalscoring record which saw us finish as the lowest scorers in country last season.
This weekend offers an opportunity to put the Sunderland game behind us and to look at how we can keep Norwich below us in the table.
If we're to enjoy yet another successful season in the Premier League then Carrow Road is the sort of place where we should be viewing a three-point haul as being a very achievable target.
It won't be easy, of course, especially after Norwich's recent morale-boosting win against Arsenal, but it remains one of those away games which we know we stand a better than average chance of being able to win.
On a final note, I'd like to add my own voice to the chorus of those who have supported Andy Wilkinson, pictured, for his actions against Sunderland, where he rode an extremely reckless challenge from Craig Gardner, but then bounced straight back up, shook hands and got on with the game.
Pulis has brought so much pride back to our club in recent years, with the way we have returned to life in the top division.
His stance on diving players and those who feign injury has given me another reason to be proud of my club.
The divers and play-actors are a curse on the game and I am so happy that our club stands out against such antics.
No club is 100 per cent clean in this area, but I doubt whether you could show me one who are as clean as TP's Potters.
We may be hard and uncompromising at times but our players get up and get on with the game, while players from other teams are writhing around on the floor, beating their arms on the ground in apparent agony and then getting up as bright as a button as soon as their 'show' has worked its magic on the referee.
It may be a man's game, but not all clubs have players who conduct themselves like men.