Coventry City recorded their eighth Championship draw of the campaign in a wide open game against seventh from top Stoke City.
The Potters had arguably the better chances in the game when the width of the crossbar and poor finishing was as much the reason for the stalemate as the Sky Blues’ impressive defensive resolve against a big and physical side.
The deserved point may not have moved Mark Robins’s men up in the table, but it helped strengthen their grip on the coat tails of the mid-table pack with the team now seven points off the bottom three.
Here are some of the big talking points and things we learned from the goalless Boxing Day draw.
Matty Godden made a welcome return to the opening line-up, making his first start for 11 long games for the Sky Blues, replacing the injured Tyler Walker against a typically big and physical Stoke City.
He was unable to get on the scoresheet on this occasion but the fact that he got through 70 plus minutes was a hugely encouraging sign from the hard-working striker whose movement and running was excellent throughout the time he was on the pitch.
The 29-year-old is the player whom manager Mark Robins describes as his ‘talisman’ and his mere presence in the side made City look more of a threat at the sharp end than they have in recent weeks when clear cut chances and goals have been hard to come by.
Sadly, it appears to be the way at the minute that no sooner do City get a good player back, they lose another, and the news that Walker is now out for six weeks with a calf strain is far from ideal at a time when the former Forest front man was getting a run of games together.
Godden’s return coincided with a particularly threatening performance from the ever lively Callum O’Hare.
There’s real chemistry between the two, with both arguably bringing out the best in each other as O’Hare constantly looks to feed and create openings for his team-mate, as he did with a couple of mouth-watering moves in the first half.
O’Hare has established himself as a regular starter this season and looked back to near his best against Stoke following a couple of less influential displays, and Godden clearly provided the spark to re-ignite the attacking midfielder in his No.10 role.
The pair first struck up a good understanding last season and that can only bode well at a time when goals are hard to come by and for the second half of the campaign.
Bridging the gap
Gus Hamer was another who made a welcome return to the teamsheet after serving a one match suspension at Sheffield Wednesday.
City really are a different proposition with the classy midfielder in the side helping City bridge the gap between a newly promoted side looking to find its feet and a team that’s beginning to look more than capable of holding its own in the division.
The question is, given Liam Kelly’s absence, where is he best deployed?
And Robins appears to have found the answer by playing what looks like a midfield diamond with Ben Sheaf sat at the bottom, doing the dirty job, while Hamer and Jamie Allen play a little further forward with O’Hare at the tip.
This gives City the best of both worlds from the Dutch/Brazilian who can help screen and mop up out of possession and spark attacks when City do have the ball.
The role is also suited to Allen who works incredibly hard covering the yards but has lacked dynamism this season until Boxing Day when he played with great confidence, displaying a lovely first touch, crisp one-touch passing and finally testing a goalkeeper.
Another clean sheet
The Sky Blues’ point against Stoke City came courtesy of their third consecutive goalless draw at St Andrew’s – the other two having been against Huddersfield and Luton.
That, according to club statistician Jim Brown, is the first time the club have achieved that sequence at home in some 28 years, since 1992 under Don Howe.
City’s third clean sheet in their last five games was all the more impressive given it was against a Potters side that has only lost twice on the road so far this term under former Coventry midfielder Michael O’Neill, and are a serious aerial threat.
Saturday’s result meant Robins’s men have only suffered one defeat in their last ten games, during which time they have only shipped five goals to shake off the unwanted tag as the leakiest defence in the division.
Fans will be delighted to hear that there are now four teams that have conceded more than City’s 28 from 21 games – Huddersfield (29), QPR (29), Wycombe (31) and Tuesday’s opponents, Preston North End (30).
Summer signing edges closer
Marcel Hilssner made his first appearance in a senior matchday squad since his arrival from German Bundesliga 2 side SC Paderborn.
The 25-year-old has struggled with a chest issue and, more recently, trying to get up to the levels required but a muscle strain suffered by Gervane Kastaneer against Sheffield Wednesday last time out opened the door for the rarely seen winger to be named on the nine man bench.
Robins admitted last month that he was contemplating sending Hilssner out on loan in January to get game time in order to get up to speed, but a goal in the Under-23s appears to have caught the eye and he’s moved up the pecking order.
There’s still a long way to go for the forward before getting his chance to make his debut, but his inclusion is certainly a step in the right direction for a player, like fellow summer recruit Julien Dacosta, whom fans are desperate to see working a bit of magic in a Sky Blues shirt.