For the 36,000 or so present, these were 90 minutes they will never get back. It had felt like a chance for Tottenham Hotspur to respond to Arsenal's victory at Wigan Athleticearlier in the day and make a statement about their top-four ambitions. Instead, they did nothing, other than run into the jaws of Stoke City's defence, which showed why it is the meanest in the Premier League.
Stoke did not do much, either, apart from look rugged and unyielding, and the match became one to be filed under forgettable – and then deleted. The only fun to be had came from watching the rival managers, André Villas-Boas and Tony Pulis, going through the emotional wringer on the touchline, together with the rest of their staffs. The winner of the most animated coach went to Steffen Freund, the Tottenham assistant, who surely needs a long lie-down before the Boxing Day visit to Aston Villa.
Kenwyne Jones and Ryan Shotton passed up presentable chances for Stoke; Emmanuel Adebayor missed for Tottenham and the substitute Gylfi Sigurdsson drew a smart injury-time save out of Asmir Begovic. And that was pretty much it. For Pulis and the travelling Stoke support, there might have been beauty in the towering defensive performances of Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross or the assurance of Steven N'Zonzi in front of them. For everybody else, the full-time whistle was something of a mercy. "It's not easy to break Stoke down," Villas-Boas said. "It was a difficult game."
Stoke are unbeaten in eight and they had flickered at the outset, which was in no way a sign of the offensive fare to come. N'Zonzi laid on Jones's opportunity when he led a break and rolled the ball through to find the striker's intelligent run, which had stretched the home defence. In on goal, Jones forced Hugo Lloris into a low parry before Tottenham scrambled to safety. Jones had earlier had a sighting after a loose crossfield pass by Kyle Walker only to shoot over the crossbar.
Space was at a premium, which was the basis of Tottenham's frustration but cause for Stoke to reflect upon a job industriously done. It was a game when the home crowd needed an outlet and they targeted the referee, Lee Mason, who needed to keep a close watch on several challenges, general niggle and the inevitable man-handling at set-pieces. There was lots of outrage on the benches. Mousa Dembélé also complained that N'Zonzi had caught him with a stray arm.
Gareth Bale, back after hamstring trouble, was Tottenham's best hope of an opening and he created his team's only chance of the first half, when he lengthened his stride and crossed deep for Adebayor, whose looping header cleared the crossbar. The intensity was high, the quality low and tensions simmered. Pulis was less than impressed when he felt that Bale had tumbled too easily early in the second half and, having advanced into Villas-Boas's side of the technical area, he voiced his feelings in rather inflammatory fashion.
Villas-Boas kept his composure, although the edginess must have churned inside him. It was a struggle for his team.
It might have been worse for him had Shotton done more than merely sidefoot at Lloris in the second half, after Geoff Cameron had robbed Aaron Lennon, to surge forward and centre. Bale headed over at the far post from Lennon's cross and the game dragged. It felt as if one mistake, rather than any class, might prove decisive, although Sigurdsson did meet Sandro's cross cleanly with his head to test Begovic's reactions. Roll on Christmas.