Switching on the television to watch Stoke’s second home match of the season both myself and the boy had a sense of foreboding. With no Shaqiri, Johnson or Butland any feelings of anticipation over the debuts of Bony and “the Beast” Indi were tempered and after glancing at the team sheet were finally dispelled. Why had Phil Bardsley, who had been one of Stoke’s better players at Everton, been dropped in favour of Geoff Cameron? And why did Mark Hughes persist with playing a good old fashioned centre forward, like John Walters, on the wing?
Still for the first twenty minutes things didn’t look too bad and we nearly even saw Glenn Whelean break a hundred and sixty plus game scoring drought with what would have been one of the greatest goals ever scored at the newly named Bet365 stadium. But even with Stoke in the game my boy, who I have to point out is only twelve, spotted early on the flaw in Mark Hughes’ game plan. “Look at the gap between the defence and the midfield” the boy pointed out time and time again.
In today’s game forwards no longer spend the ninety minutes hanging out on the shoulder of the centre half but instead drop deep, or pull wide, to create space for their attacking midfielders to exploit and this is what Harry Kane kept on doing to Stoke on Saturday. I don’t know who is the most to blame, the manager who set up his team as he did, Ryan Shawcross, who we all know likes to defend deep, or the midfield who should be covering the spaces in front of their defence but this needs to be sorted out before we play Crystal Palace next Sunday.
In the end Spurs’ first goal came about because, although Joe Allen tracked his man back he was still beaten and Erik Pieters was once again too slow to react. Yet most importantly when the ball was turned back to the edge of the box there was no Stoke City player tracking the run of Son Heoung-Min. Spurs’ second, also scored by Son was down to an error of judgement by Shawcross who came rushing into midfield only to miss the ball. Is this why he likes to defend so deep? Sadly Spur’s third came about as a result of another of Stoke’s regular failings, with both of our full backs attacking at the same time Spurs broke quickly and this time Dele Alli was the one to benefit from Stoke’s lack of defensive nous.
But the final nail in the coffin was worryingly the most telling. Three goals to the good Spurs started to play party football and I bet they couldn’t believe their luck as they passed the ball around, almost at will, within the Stoke penalty box before Harry Kane tapped in for his first of the season. Yet it was the look on the Stoke player’s faces and their body language which, as a Stoke fan, sent shivers down the spine, none of them seemed to care! After two home games we have now let in eight goals and scored only once but these games have been against two of the most creative teams we will play this season and there should still be some confidence within this group of players that they can turn our current abysmal home form around. Yet after only four games the players look beaten and the home fans picked up on this. Indeed if the match had gone on ten minutes longer there might have been a pitch invasion by the Stoke fans dying to get at Marko Arnautovic to tell the Austrian exactly what they thought about his performance.
It is now up to the manager to turn things round and I still have faith in Mark Hughes but he needs to address a few fundamental flaws which were so evident on Saturday:
- If you have a full back who has played well in the last game then select him instead of playing a centre half out of position.
- If your tactic of bombarding the full back with highballs isn’t working change your approach. Was I the only person screaming for Ramadan Sobhi to enter the fray?
- Sort out the midfield. Glenn Whealan can still perform a job for Stoke but Hughes must give him help in front of defence and the answer to that is not Giannelli Imbula.
- Work on the team defending as a team. Too often you could drive a fleet of buses between the defence and the midfield and at the moment they are playing as two different groups of players who are not yet on first name terms with each other
- Restore some confidence and pride to those who wear the red and white. I don’t like seeing Stoke get hammered four nil but I will accept it if every player has given his all. On Saturday this was not the case.
Stoke Giraffe of the Week Joe Allen
Stoke Lemon of the Week Mark Hughes
Shay Given – 7 Some fine saves but too often he was left exposed by the shambles in front of him
Geoff Cameron – 3 Exposed at right back yet although by far the worst player on the pitch could still be the answer to Stoke’s problems in midfield
Ryan Shawcross – 6 Played too deep and got pulled out of position too often
Bruno Martins Indo – 7 In the first half looked to be a Dutch international, performance faded a little in the second half due to a lack of match fitness
Erik Pieters – 4 At fault for at least two of the goals. When his partnership with Arnie isn’t working then he looks a weak cog
Glenn Whealan – 5 Looked off the pace, at least until the transfer window needs help alongside him but in the longer term Stoke need a younger version
Giannelli Imbula – 5 Looked good going forward and (most of the time) distributes the ball well but gave up too often when tracking back
Joe Allen – 8 Stoke’s best player if only because he was the only player to run and tackle from the first whistle to the last
Marko Arnautovic – 6 Unlucky to be booked and in the first half looked a threat but seemed to give up in the second
John Walters – 5 Played out of position and for the second game running was too slow when a chance came his way
Wilfried Bony – 6 Lacked match fitness and it showed but we saw enough to be confident he will get the goals Stoke need.
Bojan – 5 Came on when the match was lost
Charlie Adam – 5 Similar to Bojan, never got enough of the ball when he was on the pitch to influence the game
Mark Hughes – 3 Predictably insipid team selection when his first choice players weren’t available and although it seems he recognised the midfield was the problem area his substitutions were uninspired and didn’t change anything.
Anthony Taylor – 5 You can just imagine Mr Taylor berating his wife for not placing his Monday socks next to his Sunday socks and bringing out his red card when she dared to complain. A jobsworth who only got five because he should have awarded the away team a penalty or two and if he had the score line could have been a lot worse