First the good news, despite another four goals in the against column if you are honest you would have to concede that Stoke’s performance was an improvement from their hammering by Spurs the week before. And now the bad, Spurs played Stoke off the park and looked like a Champions League team, Crystal Palace didn’t and, although they may not go down, I stick my earlier predictions on this blog that they will be at the bottom end of the table come the end of the season.
Once more taking a look at the team sheet the first question myself and the boy had was, what is Mark Hughes doing? Yet again we had a slow cumbersome centre forward on the right wing and although we had returned to playing a right back at right back, our new marquee centre half had been shunted out to left back! If Pieters was to be sacrificed for his lack of first team form then why not play Muniesa?
With Bojan also returning to the starting line-up, replacing the underperforming Imbula, it was clear Hughes wanted to see more creativity from his midfield but from the first whistle Stoke were chasing shadows as, like every match so far this season, the opposition started stronger. It was immediately clear the Palace players wanted the ball more and even when Stoke managed to get hold of the ball they gave it away too cheaply. No more evident than when Bojan, not for the last time in the match, sold Glenn Johnson short early in the match.
As Palace began to dictate the flow of the game cracks in the Stoke defence began to resurface and when Bojan gave away a cheap free kick on the edge of the box you sensed that the writing was on the wall. And so it was, as the ball was floated into the box Stoke’s defence didn’t seem to know if they should be holding their line or dropping back and it was no surprise to see John Walters, isolated on the back post, heading the ball into his own neck. Was this his first shot on target this season?
Stoke’s woes were compounded when two minutes later Scott Dann was allowed a free run at the ball from a corner and he gratefully rifled his header into the back of the net. Hughes’ may boast that his Stoke are a more complete footballing team than his predecessors but would a Tony Pulis team concede two such soft goals from set pieces?
Any boasts about Stoke as a creative force sadly looked out of place for the remainder of the half. Time after time Stoke won the ball only to give the ball away cheaply with a mistimed or over hit pass. With the biggest culprits being the “star” players Hughes is so proud of, Bojan, Arnie and the plainly short of match fitness Bony. The only consolation which could be drawn from the remainder of the first half was, apart from set pieces, Stoke, in the main, dealt comfortably with everything Palace threw at them.
When the teams emerged from the tunnel for the second half groans could be heard from my boy as he noticed Hughes had opted to make no changes, the only tinkering it seemed was to play Whelan further forward. Whelan, whose legs if they haven’t already gone are going, instead of the more dynamic and more creative Allen!
Still, whilst Stoke didn’t look like creating too much, they played their football further up the pitch and even though they didn’t look like they had enough to salvage a point, for the first time since the second half mauling against Manchester City they looked like they were getting into the game. Then Stoke’s frailties at set pieces were exposed once more, tinged of course with our customary bad luck and ill-discipline. Picking up a stupid yellow card, for a late shoulder charge, Arnie conceded a soft free kick on the touchline and predictably Stoke’s defence were unable to deal with the resulting cross and Given could only curse as McArthur’s shot took a wicked deflection of Geoff Cameron and whistled past him into the net.
Three nil soon became four. With Stoke’s defence backing off Townsend was allowed space on the edge of the box to shoot and he duly obliged by curling a shot just inside the right hand upright. Mark Hughes has a lot to be concerned about but one of the most pressing must surely be the fact we are conceding goals in twos, a mental frailty that perhaps sums up the lack of belief in the team.
Of course Stoke did have chances of their own and two of the best involved the good and bad of Stoke’s only substitute, Mame Biram Diouf. The good was the pace and urgency shown to sprint clear of the defence and set up Bony, who hopefully after a few more games will slot in these sort of chances rather than fall flat on his face, and the bad? The header he didn’t even get on target from one of Stoke’s rare corners.
Stoke’s only other real chances came about from the persistence, yes persistence (and you could also add tireless running) of Arnie, who if it hadn’t of been for a wonderfully timed tackle by Palace substitute Delaney could have brought the match back to two one. And then finally, after almost three and a half games, we finally scored a goal as Arnie took out all of his frustrations and smacked a curling shot past the diving Mandanda.
Last week I declared I still had faith in Mark Hughes and although it is slowly waning this is still the case but there are still fundamental flaws in the way Stoke are being set up and in the way they are playing and unless they are sorted soon we could have the unenviable sight of Tony Pulis’ West Brom doing to us what Spurs and Palace have done over the last couple of weekends:
- Play players in positions they are suited to. For the second week we looked exposed at full back because we had a centre half playing there and lacking creativity in attack because Super Jon is not a wide player.
- Where was Ramadan Sobhi? Diouf did well when he came on but Hughes’ only other attacking option was Two Metre Peter, an all too similar option to Bony and Walters.
- Sort out the midfield. At one point I watched Whelan running like a metronome from one side to the other as Palace passed the ball from side to side. Whelan’s legs are not what they used to be and he needs help.
- Work on set pieces, I have a theory our woeful defending at corners may be a hangover from the penalties we conceded at the start of the season but this is not an excuse and you can bet Tony Pulis is rubbing his hands in anticipation.
- Make the players care about pulling on the red and white. Every match this season we have been out hustled and out run before we have been out played.
Stoke Giraffe of the Week Marko Arnautovic
Stoke Lemon of the Week Bojan
Shay Given – 6 Had little chance with three of the goals but should he have come out for Palace’s second?
Glenn Johnson – 7 A small speck of light in a collectively woeful defensive display.
Ryna Shawcross – 5 Needs to take hold of his defence and impose a desire to keep that round thing as far away from the net as possible
Geoff Cameron – 5 Unlucky for McArthur’s goal but should have been more of a presence when Palace crossed the ball into the box
Bruno Martins Indi – 4 Played out of position and it showed as he kept on coming two far across, and even at times cold be spotted in central midfield. Is the Beast the answer to Stoke’s defensive midfield problems?
Glenn Whelan – 6 Worked hard but too often off the pace and desperately needs help in the engine room of Stoke’s midfield
Joe Allen – 6 Another who ran all day but sitting deeper reduced his impact on the game and when he went forward the opposition poured into the gaps he left
Marko Arnautivic – 7 Would have been 8 except for the stupid booking which led to Palace’s third goal. Always willing to chase a lost cause and the amount of tracking back he does seem to disappear under a lot of fans’ radar.
Bojan – 3 Disappointing. What defensive work he did was clumsy and when he had the ball he too often passed to a player wearing the wrong colour stripes
John Walters – 4 Another match played out of position and, even though he was offside, another gilt edged chance that didn’t even hit the target. He’s missed one in every game that he has played this season
Wilfried Bony – 4 Lacked service and clearly lacks match fitness. Should play against Hull in the cup if only to try and rediscover his sharpness
Mame Biram Diouf – 7 Provided a much needed threat when he replaced Bojan and until Shaqiri returns must be a better option than Super John
Mark Hughes – 4 Another confusing team selection which was confounded by a substitute bench which looked tired and about five years out of date
Craig Pawson – 8 Would have got the Giraffe but I could never have lived with myself if I awarded it to a referee. Have to give him the best compliment you could ever give a man in black, I didn’t really notice him at all.