Stoke City 2 – Burnley 0

With Glenda and Joe Allen on the bench Mystic Mark decided to stick with the formation and, mostly, with the players who managed to put Watford to the sword. Was the reason because Hughes had one eyes on Stoke’s upcoming run of tough fixtures or did he believe he had stumbled upon a way to play which has currently become the vogue this season? Although I would like to say it was the former, sadly I believe it was the latter and I only hope after Saturday’s performance Stoke’s management team look at how we were overrun in midfield and realise with the personal they have available 3-4-3 isn’t the right formation for us just yet.

Admittedly Stoke look more dangerous with Shaqiri and Arnie playing closer to the centre forward but is more of a case that Super Jon has looked like a player with a point to prove in the last two games? And how he proved that point, after a deft back heel from Shaqiri to Mame, the Senegalese whipped in a beauty or a cross only for Walters to outdo both as he deftly diverted the ball past the despairing Robinson.

Maybe that goal went against the run of play as Burnley started the match determined to get a first away win of the season as they lay siege to the Stoke goal, aided by too many sloppy passes from the home team, with Charlie Boy being the biggest culprit. But as soon as Stoke had taken the lead they began to search for a second, with Stoke’s big two, Arnie and Shaqiri, being involed in almost everything good Stoke managed to produce.

And it was the Austrian who had a hand in the second as he raced down the left wing after Muniesa had brought the ball out of defence and when Arnie looked up, after skinning his full back, he was probably as surprised as anyone to see the Spaniard at the edge of the box calling for the return ball. Undaunted Arnie found Muniesa and whilst it may not go down as goal of the season the Spaniard’s volleyed finish will surely mean it will find a place in his own personal highlight reel.

At the other end Muniesa was perhaps fortunate not to be shown a red card as he tussled with the combative Andre Gray but looking at the replays it could also be argued that the Burnley was as much at fault for the shirt tugging which resulted in the free kick.

With the teams coming out for the second half it was clear Sean Dyche had told his players to revert to the intensity which they had started the match and to target Muniesa as the weak link in the Stoke back line as they pressed for a way back into the game. However, Bruno and the excellent Lee Grant in goal were more than a match for a Burnley team who, whilst they dominated the possession, were unable to create many, if any, clear cut chances. In fact, apart from an acrobatic paw to save an Andre Gray shot Burnley looked unlikely to score and maybe it was frustration which led to Ashley Barnes leading with his elbow to floor Bruno.

As the game petered to an inevitable conclusion both managers brought on players to try and change the flow of the game but whilst Dyche’s decision to bring on Vokes and ex-Stoke player Michael Kightly to try and win the game Stoke’s inability to kill the game off has to partly be put down to the insipid substitutions by Hughes which have become his trademark. Whilst Glenda added security in the middle of the park, why wasn’t Ramadan introduced after both Arnie and Shaqiri had been substituted? Surely the Egyptian’s pace would have provided more of a threat than that of Two Meter Peter!

Nineteen points and a place in the top half of the table proves those naysayers, who predicted a tough season for Stoke, wrong but having now played all but Southampton and Leicester of the teams below us in the table, the real litmus test of where we will finish the season is before us. With Arsenal away next up there are a few things which need to be taken into consideration.

  • Although I do not think 3-4-3 is the way to go with the current Stoke squad next week may be cause for the formation to get its third run out in as many weeks, especially if the Captain is still injured. Whilst Bruno is looking like an inspired signing he does not have the electric pace which would allow him to deal with the Arsenal flyers and maybe playing three at the back will somehow compensate for this disparity in pace.
  • I hope the only reason Charlie Boy played in place of Glenda was because Hughes wanted to make sure the Irishman was fit to play against Arsenal on Saturday. The Scot does not have the defensive mind set to play as cover for the defence and too often he gives the ball away cheaply. His performance against Swansea needs to be forgotten quickly and Mystic Mark needs to take of his rose tinted glasses and realise Adam has been a liability in the last three matches.
  • I know Muniesa has been given the Man of the Match award by the Sentinel but this can only be for his influence at the wrong end of the pitch. Too often he was bullied off the ball because he does not have the physical presence of, for example, Bruno and his wanderlust is causing problems. He is not a long term answer as a centre half and unless the club and the player agree to try him in Clumsy’s role I fear the popular Spaniard will have to be shown the door.
  • Mystic Mark’s substitutions are clearly being done by numbers, with both Shaqiri and Arnie replaced for Allen and Crouch we had no outlet down the wings as Mame was being pushed back and, as well as he played, Super Jon does not have the legs. Surely Ramadan’s pace would have terrorised the Burnley defence and if, as I suspect, they dropped back to compensate it would have allowed Stoke to clear the lines more effectively.

Stoke Giraffe of the Week           Bruno Martins Indi

Stoke Lemon of the Week           Charlie Adam

Match Ratings

Lee Grant – 8                        Yet again dealt with everything that came his way comfortably and his performances have made news of Butland’s injury setback bearable.

Glenn Johnson – 8              Quiet going forward yet effective at the back and alongside Bruno dealt with most that Burnley has to throw at them

Marc Muniesa – 6                Gets a point for the goal but loses it again for the wanderlust which led to it. Needs to think about defending first before he looks to attack

Bruno Martin Indi – 9         Another top notch display and Stoke need to snap him up before someone else realises how well he is playing

Erik Pieters – 7                     Is defending better at wing back but is less of a threat going forward

Charlie Boy – 5                     Gives the ball away to cheaply and often looks a passenger as the opposition passes the ball around him

Giannelli Imbula – 7            A few surging runs but what impressed me the most was his increased physicality

Mame Diouf – 7                   I still maintain he is defensively suspect but showed what a threat he can be with his cross for Super Jon’s opener

Shaqiri – 8                             When he was on the pitch Stoke looked like they were going to score, when he wasn’t they didn’t!

Arnie – 8                               Similar to Shaqiri, looks more dangerous playing closer to the centre forward

Super Jon – 8                        Typical Super Jon display with a less typical finish

Substitutes

Joe Allen – 6                         Didn’t really do anything when he came on to replace Shaqiri

Two Meter Peter – 6            I get confused whether Hughes is bringing on Crouch as an attacking option or to bolster his defence! Still won a couple of balls in the box though.

Glenda – 6                             Brought on to provide a little calm in the middle of the park

Manager

Mark Hughes – 6                  I was worried Hughes may have seen the Watford display and thought he had found a miracle formation and so it proved. Sadly he hasn’t and now is the time for the manager to be ruthless and replace the under performing players like Charlie Boy

Referee

Mark Clatterburg – 7           The best ref in the world? Probably but had an average day at the bet365.

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