Watford 0 – Stoke City 1

Allen suspended, no Clumsy or Glenda and the Captain and Phil Bardsley also injured. If ever there was a time for Mystic Mark to look into his crystal ball and come up with a spark of inspiration, it was Sunday and as the Boy and I sat down to watch the match we both wondered if Mystic Mark’s crystal ball had lost its connection. Mame at right wing back, three at the back and Super Jon up front! This was never going to work.

Yet work it did, from the kick off the enforced changes seemed to galvanise the Stoke team as they fought for each other and once they had imposed themselves on the game early on the football began to flow. Imbula, back in the starting XI, was the lynchpin as Arnie, Shaqiri and the two wing backs began to pass the ball around a bemused Watford midfield and it was Stoke who deservedly had the first chance when Mame’s overhead kick was blocked before Bruno and Super Jon saw their follow ups blocked.

At the other end of the pitch Lee Grant was having a quiet Sunday lunchtime although he did have to snatch a 25 yarder out of the air after Charlie Boy gave the ball away cheaply in the middle of the park. But this was an isolated incident and Stoke continued pressing forward with Arnie nodding a cross from the right only for Super to tamely head the ball into Gomes’ grateful arms. The Watford keeper was less fortunate moments later when Charlie Boy rose to meet Shaqiri’s header sending it towards the base of the post and Gomes was only able to parry the ball back into his own net.

The expected Watford response to going a goal behind spluttered into life briefly with the hosts crafting a couple of half chances but the improvised backline of Bruno, Muniesa and Johnson looked comfortable as Watford’s woes continued. In fact it could have been Stoke who finished the half with the next goal but for an outstretched leg denying Super Jon after some neat interplay between Shaqiri and Arnie. Could of then became should of almost straight after the interval when Arnie raced from inside of his own half and squared the ball to Super Jon who has to watch in agony as the ball rolled in front of him with an open goal beckoning.

In the stands the home fans began to turn on their own players as the match’s intensity began to fall and in response Mazzarri decided to throw on first Ighalo and then Okaka in a clear attempt to get the ball in and around the Stoke penalty box but Bruno and the boys were able to deal with everything Watford tried to throw at them.

Maybe Stoke were a little fortunate that the referee waved play on after a hopeful Watford penalty shout, I have seen them given before, but whilst Watford were doing all the attacking it was Stoke who were looking the more dangerous when they broke and it was from one of these quick fire breaks when Shaqiri outpaced Britto. The Watford defender, in desperation, tugged on the Swiss’ shirt earning himself a second yellow and for the remaining five minutes it was the visitors who looked to add to their first half goal with Pieters and Imbula having shots from distance.

This win, and especially the first half display, is a pleasant pick me up after the shambles in our last match against Bournemouth. Stoke dominated one of the teams who many expect to be in and around the bottom of the top half come the end of the season, with a makeshift formation and personal but next week’s game against Burnley is another we need to win if we have ambitions to finish above the likes of Watford so as always there are a few things which need to be taken into consideration:

  • 3-4-3 or whatever it was worked well as a one off and was, in hindsight, the best formation for the players available. It may also be the way Mystic Mark wants to go in the future, it did get the best out of Arnie and Shaqiri, but a lot of thought and hard work would need to be put in before it became Stoke’s preferred formation.
  • Whilst Mame was simply Mame, hard-working, willing to play anywhere and run down any lost cause to ask whether he is Stoke’s answer to Victor Moses is a little premature. Defensively Diouf was all over the place at times and before this experiment was repeated the player needs to undergo an intensive defensive boot camp
  • Even though I don’t expect Hughes to play the same formation next week I hope the manager took note of how much more effective Arnie and Shaqiri were playing further infield.

Stoke Giraffe of the Week           Mark Hughes

Stoke Lemon of the Week           Charlie Adam

Match Ratings

Lee Grant – 7                         Another confident display

Glenn Johnson – 7               His attacking instincts were stunted by playing as part of a back three but did his main job of defending well

Marc Muniesa – 7                Got the chance he wanted as if Stoke do go with a back three would look comfortable there.

Bruno Martin Indi – 9         Immense. In the absence of the Captain put in a captain’s performance

Erik Pieters – 7                     Solid if unconvincing

Charlie Boy – 6                     Maybe a little harsh seeing as he set up the goal but gives the ball away too cheaply to play so deep.

Giannelli Imbula – 8            More like the player we thought we brought in January

Mame Diouf – 8                   Too defensively suspect at the moment to make wing back position his own. Nether the less worked his socks off and posed real questions down Watford’s left

Shaqiri – 8                             Was more involved playing closer to the striker and provided a few moments of magic

Arnie – 9                                Back to his arrogant best, the only thing that is missing now is the goals

Super Jon – 7                        Another who ran his socks off but the chance at the start of the second half showed he is missing a yard or two of pace

Substitutes

Two Meter Peter – 7            Maybe Mystic Mark is right and Crouch deserves another year but only if he realises ten, fifteen minutes at the end of the game is all he is going to get

Manager

Mark Hughes – 9                  Tactical masterstroke or a message from the other side? Whatever prompted the team selection was inspired and showed good reactive thinking by bringing on Two Meter Peter to counter the threat of Okaka.

Referee

Robert Madley – 6                  It was clear from the start he was not going to accept any dissent, the difference between the two teams was Stoke realised this and even Arnie only complained to his team mates. Also stayed strong and didn’t give either of the two soft penalty shouts towards the end of the game.

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