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For all their supposed defensive frailties it is hard to criticise a third clean sheet in four matches for Manchester City too much but this was far from inspiring stuff at the start of a significant week.

Manuel Pellegrini had started with just 14 different players in his team’s first three matches of the season. But the imminent arrival of the Champions League saw five of his front six in the starting line-up for the first time in the current campaign.

And, with a distinct lack of attacking rhythm on show, it was a solid defensive display that saw them leave with a point after a feisty display from Mark Hughes’s Stoke City, who were somewhat irked by the team that was selected to face them.

Only poor finishing from the home side prevented a second defeat in four games for a City side that was without Vincent Kompany, Gael Clichy, David Silva and Micah Richards due to injury.

Games against Viktoria Plzen and next week’s Manchester derby may be seen as the priority but after the 3-2 defeat at Cardiff and a scrappy 2-0 win over Hull, the flowing football that saw Pellegrini’s side sweep Newcastle aside with a 4-0 win in their opening game of the season feels a long time ago.

On their first starts for the club, forwards Alvaro Negredo and Stevan Jovetic struggled for service with Yaya Touré once again employed in a deep-lying role that negated his influence on the attack. “Of course we want to win every game but it’s impossible and it’s a special week for us because we haven’t had the players,” Pellegrini said.

“I won’t always be happy when I draw away but for this match it’s good. “I trust the squad and if we change (players) we can play well but Stoke played a good match and that’s why we didn’t have chances to score.”

The visitors began reasonably well but were restricted to long-range efforts from Samir Nasri, Negredo and Jovetic and Stoke enjoyed the more dangerous efforts throughout.

Jonathan Walters glanced just past the far post from a whipped Charlie Adam cross before Kenwyne Jones thumped straight at Joe Hart after robbing Nasri and surging through.

Another cross from Geoff Cameron almost caught the visitors out just after the interval and Jones threatened again when he rose highest to glance over from a powerful cross from Adam.

Sergio Agüero replaced Jovetic just after the hour but it was Stoke at continued to do all of the pressing, with new signing Marko Arnautovic coming off the bench to send over a dangerous low cross that saw Hart having to make a fine reaction save from Nastasic’s attempted block, before Jones lifted the follow-up over the bar.

Arnautovic lifted a free kick over the bar and also clipped a lob on to the roof of the net late on.

There was no deserved fourth consecutive victory but Hughes is pleased with the progress his team is making, although he hinted that Stoke felt Pellegrini’s selection showed a lack of respect.

“We’re disappointed we haven’t won so that’s an indication of how we feel the game went,” Hughes said. “City have big games coming up, seven in 21 days, so it’s a busy period but maybe they picked a team they thought could win and maybe the prioritised the wrong game.

“They’ve got a huge squad and you have to use your resources in the right way and get the combination right and when you have the riches they have you have to pick the right combination and maybe they didn’t get that right.”

Stoke (4-5-1) Begovic 6; Cameron 7, Shawcross 7, Huth 7, Pieters 6; Walters 6, Nzonzi 8, Wilson 6, Adam 8 (Arnautovic 70, 7), Etherington 7 (Ireland 70, 6); Jones 7 (Crouch 77). Subs Sorensen, Whelan, Pennant, Palacios. Booked Walters

Manchester City (4-4-2) Hart 7; Zabaleta 7, Garcia 7, Nastastic 7, Kolarov 6; Milner 6, Toure 6, Rodwell 7, Nasri 6 (Navas 73); Negredo 7, Jovetic 6 (Aguero 63, 6) Subs Pantilimon, Lescott, Dzeko, Fernandinho, Boyata. Booked Garcia

Referee M Clattenburg (Co Durham)

Source: Telegraph

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