Stoke’s Christmas Wishlist – Full Backs

With less than a month left to one of the most exciting days of the year, yes the opening of the transfer window, I thought I would look at Stoke City’s current squad and give my opinions where we need to strengthen. This time the fullbacks:

First Choice:       Glen Johnson and Erik Pieters

Reserves:            Phil Bardsley

Any Others in or around the first team squad?

Whilst not their natural positions both Marc Muniesa and Geoff Cameron can fill in when required.

What about ones for the future?

Lewis Banks, Joel Taylor

Do we need to bring anyone in?

With the recent flirtation with a back three the traditional full back position is not one where Stoke have to be immediately invest in, we could always return to playing three at the back which players like Mame become potential wing backs. Having said that we are short of cover at left back and if a suitable player becomes available Stoke may try to bring in as back up to Pieters.

Do we need to let anyone go?

When Johnson got injured earlier in the season it showed how this we are at full back, with full back not the best positions of the two players most likely to deputise for Bardsley or Pieters if they were unavailable.

Have we been linked with anyone?

Sead Kolasinac (although I feat this one is more about the player’s agent renegotiating his client’s contract) and Linus Wahlqvist (who could be a long term solution at right back)

Any other business?

Before, and even after, his injury Johnson has been linked with Barcelona, yep Barcelona, but with Bardsley now injured I suspect Hughes would do his best to ensure the player stayed at the Bet365. If Hughes continues to persist with playing three at the back then someone like Bardlsey may find himself surplus to requirements once he returns from injury.


Giraffes and Lemons – A Third of the Season Gone

Although not quite a third of the way through the season, the recent international break gives us a chance to look back at the matches which have been played so far and highlight some of the players who have stood out for each club. Here are my thoughts on who has stood tall so far this season, based on the matches I have watched and a couple who have perhaps not done as well as may have been expected.

As always let me know your thoughts and feel free to tell me if you think I have got your club’s star player wrong:



Adam Smith – An attacking full back who is surely destined for a bigger club as more and more begin to flirt with playing three at the back.



Alexis Sanchez – Has been the reason for much of Arsenal’s good play this season but a word of warning, the Chilean does run hot and cold


Arsene Wenger – Another transfer window where he failed to deliver that world class player, Xhaka may turn out to be a star turn but Arsenal need help for Sanchez and Co more than they need defensive minded reinforcements



Tom Heaton – If Burnley are to survive it will be because of their shot stopper



Marcos Alonso – Brought to the club so that Conte can play the system he wants to. With three at the back the Spaniard has the freedom to roam forward and is one of Chelsea’s most unheralded attacking options.


Gary Cahill – Calamity waiting to happen at times and it sums up his season so far when David Luiz isn’t winning this award

Crystal Palace


Steve Mandanda – Looks to be a class act and could end up being one of the best bits of business done by any club in the last transfer window.



Yannick Bolaise – Although Lukaku has stolen the headlines with his goals the Congolese international has been the one to provide most of the big Belgian’s bullets.

Hull City


Curtis Davies – I have a feeling by the end of the season Hull will be relegated and Michael Dawson will be winning this award but Davies was immense in August and is largely responsible for the club having the points they have.


The Board – There prevaricating over the appointment of Mike Phelan as their new manager was nothing short of a fiasco and, even though as a result they may have saved themselves some money in the short term, their dithering cost them the chance to bring in the players they needed to give them a chance of staying up.

Leicester City


Islam Slimani – With Vardy misfiring the Algerian has looked at times the only likely source of goals.


Riyad Mahrez – Should Leicester have sold him in the summer? Surely the longer he takes to recover last season’s form the more his value drops. I would be tempted to get what I could for the Algerian in the January transfer window.



Roberto Firmino – Whilst many would argue this should have gone to his fellow Brazilian midfielder I feel Firmino produces more consistently and is a greater threat


Daniel Sturridge – Perhaps more a statement of England’s place in the international game when one of their star strikers shouldn’t really be on his club’s bench based on his Liverpool showings this season.

Manchester City


Fernandinho – With both his centre halves and his goalkeeper being real contenders for the Lemon of the year Fernandinho’s contribution cannot be underestimated. Sitting in front of a disaster waiting to happen the Brazilian has been City’s real foundation.

Nolito – Could have gone to any of City’s back line but the Spanish winger gets the nod simply for the stupidity he regularly shows when over reacting to tackles. Expect at least one more red card this season.

Manchester United


Zlatan – Might have gone through a goal drought but his hard work and all round game brings out the best in those around him. A consummate professional.


Marcus Rashford – After bursting onto the scene has been less than average ever since the Stoke game. Fans will need to remember he is young and not get angry when Jose takes him out of the firing line for his own good. Could still be one for the future though.



Aitor Karanka – Has overseen Middlesbrough’s return to the Premiership with quiet efficiency


Alvaro Negrado – After a goal scoring debut against Stoke, naturally, has failed to produce consistently enough and would be surprised if his loan is made permanent



Virgil Van Dijk – I expect the Dutchman to be the next to head through the door marked exit. Truly good all round defender

Stoke City


Geoff Cameron – Has Clumsy finally found his position? Could he be the long term answer to Glenda? His move to central defensive midfielder has been one of the main reasons for Stoke’s upturn in fortune


Erik Pieters – Showed signs against West Ham that he may be returning to his best form but has been responsible for too many goals this season



Jordan Pickford – Everybody’s fantasy football goalkeeper. Has been putting in man of the match performances every week and has had to.


Jack Rodwell – Once the future of the English game, now looks out of his depth in a team destined for relegation.

Tottenham Hotspur


Victor Wanyama – A tank of a man who shields probably the best back four in the Premiership with consummate ease.


Vincent Janssen – A flop since his big money summer transfer



Jose Holebas – Has been a revelation this season under Mazzari and even scored a stunner against Middlesbrough


The Pozzo Family – Whilst Mazzari looks like keeping the Hornets in the Premiership will this be enough for the owners who seem to expect the club to be challenging for honours. The debacle over allegedly forged bank letters could also come back to haunt the club.

West Bromwich Albion


Nacer Chadli – Tony Pulis buying an out and out flair player and playing him regularly, stranger things have happened in football but not often. The Belgian clearly had a point to prove and at the moment is proving it.


Saido Berahino – Is he still playing football? Apparently overweight and unfit I still fear Hughes will try and sign the England player when the transfer window opens in January.

West Ham United


Michail Antonio – Already scored five goals this season and looks a threat no matter where he plays, and he has played almost everywhere. What chance ninety minutes in goal before the end of the season?


Simone Zaza – The best bit of transfer business West Ham could do in January would be to persuade someone to buy the Italian flop before they are forced to fork out for overrated striker.

West Ham United 1 – Stoke City 1

With Arnie, Shaqiri and Clumsy missing from the Stoke line-up even playing an out of form West Ham seemed like it was going to be a tough game. Hughes’s team selection however gave a glimmer of hope with Ramadan deputising for Arnie whilst Charlie Boy continued alongside Glenda and Super Jon taking his place on the right wing.

Yet after only a few minutes it was becoming abundantly clear that this West Ham team is a poor imitation of the Payet led side which performed so well last season. This West Ham team are not just out of form but simply poor, a fact which makes the point gained on Saturday feel more like two points lost.

Stoke, missing the magic and goal threat of Shaqiri and Arnie, dominated the opening forty-five minutes without troubling Adrian in the West Ham goal. In fact, Stoke’s only real clear cut chance fell to Bony, who’s glancing header hardly troubled the West Ham keeper and although both Ramadan and Super Jon teased their full backs a number of times the end ball was just not that good enough.

Despite all of Stoke’s dominance it was West Ham who had the best chance of the first half when Grant produced a reflex save to deny Angelo Ogbanna and with the two teams heading into the tunnel at half-time that here we go again Stoke paranoia began to surface once more.

And that paranoia felt justified when after sixty-five minutes a Payet cross was diverted into his own net by Glenda to give the home team a lead they thoroughly didn’t deserve. And with their noses in front West Ham began to grow in confidence as they chased a second goal which would surely have killed the game.

Hughes, seeing his team fall behind, gambled with the introduction of Two Meter Peter and Bojan for the disappointing Bony and Glenda and whilst he may not have the mobility of his younger days the added aerial presence of Stoke’s veteran forward man began to give Adrian the jitters. Every time the ball was launched into the West Ham penalty area the West Ham keeper seemed to have a rush of blood to the head as he left his line to try, unsuccessfully, to claim the ball.

It was one of these rushes of blood to the head which resulted in Stoke’s equalizer when Super Jon bravely chipped the ball past the on rushing Adrian for Bojan to tap into an empty net and although the West Ham keeper received a yellow card for taking out the Stoke winger I would be interested to see what would have happened if Bojan had missed and Stoke were subsequently awarded a penalty. Whilst Super Jon was not faced with a clear goal scoring chance the rugby tackle which he received would surely have resulted in a red card for Adrian if Stoke hadn’t of scored.

Stoke remain 12th going into the final international break of the year and with a couple of winnable games coming up should be looking to break into the top half before December’s nightmare fixture run commences but as always there are a few things which need to be taken into consideration:

  • Another good game from Ramadan but, at the moment, he is no Arnoe or Shaqiri. A good third choice winger he needs to be getting match day experience and should be on the bench when his senior colleagues are available again
  • Wilfried didn’t have his best game in a Stoke shirt and clearly missed Arnie and Shaqiri. Although Two Meter Peter created problems when he came on we desperately need a second striker as back up to the Ivorian
  • With both Charlie Boy and Bojan producing the goods Stoke are showing they have quality back up for their first team players but Clumsy and Allen, if fit, should retain their places after the break and Hughes needs to avoid the temptation to tinker with a winning formula to give his bench players game time.
  • With two winnable home games coming up, as well as a trip to a Watford team thumped by Liverpool, Stoke are on a run of fixtures which sees us play against the weaker teams in the division. But we can’t let complacency seep in and Hughes needs to ensure his team approach the upcoming matches with the positive attitude they have showed in recent weeks.

Stoke Giraffe of the Week           Erik Pieters

Stoke Lemon of the Week           Wilfried Bony

Match Ratings

Lee Grant – 7                         Excellent reflex save in the first half and unlucky for West ham’s goal.

Phil Bardsley – 7                   Typical old fashioned full back’s display complete with foul and abusive tirades aplenty. Needs to keep his mouth shut otherwise less lenient refs will take his name

Ryan Shawcross – 8             A true skippers performance and a huge sigh of relief emanated from the Stoke fans when he returned to the field after an injury scare.

Bruno Martin Indi – 6         Got outmuscled a couple of times and his passing seemed more flustered than usual.

Erik Pieters – 8                     From Lemon to Giraffe, anything that went down the West Ham right was dealt with easily by the Dutchman and provided a calming influence for Ramadan in front of him.

Glen Whelan – 7                   Did what he was asked to do well and was unlucky for the own goal.

Charlie Boy – 7                     Not so much a presence going forward as he was against Swansea but was a calming presence in the middle of the park.

Joe Allen – 7                          After his recent goal scoring form can be excused for sometimes shooting on sight but needs to look up every now and again rather than just putting his foot through the ball

Super Jon – 8                        A match which suited his more combative approach to wide play and was brave to set up Bojan’s equaliser

Ramadan – 7                         Not quite as impressive as against Swansea but looked menacing and worked hard tracking back

Wilfried – 5                            Missed having players close to him and meandered out of the game.


Bojan – 7                                In the right place at the right time to give Stoke the equaliser they deserved

Two Meter Peter – 7            His presence alone seemed to send Adrian into meltdown

Mame Diouf – 6                   Didn’t really have enough time to make an impression


Mark Hughes – 8                 Another solid team selection and his substitutions worked


Andre Mariner – 8                Unobtrusive and let the game flow, the only negative if I was a referees’ adjudicator would be not talking to Bardlsey about his continued foul and abusive language

Stoke City 3 – Swansea City 1

And so the run continues. Five matches unbeaten, three wins on the bounce and now up to 12th in the table and all their early season worries behind them. With the loss of Clumsy, who failed a pre-match fitness test, Charlie Boy stepped in to the team alongside Glenda but for the me and the Boy the biggest news was Ramadan finally returning to the match day squad as the Bet365 welcomed Swansea City.

In the build up to the game all the talk had been about Wilfried and Joe Allen playing against the club where they made their names and Mystic Mark’s crystal ball must have been working overtime as his prediction that Wilfried would score came true after only three minutes. True, no one not even Bony would ever call his first goal a classic but the delight on his face was evident as he tapped in from close range after a scuffed shot from the other former Swan, Allen.

One-nil up and dominating play as firstly Charlie Boy, with a shot from outside the penalty area, and then Shawcross tried in vain to double Stoke’s lead but in the end it was the visitors who scored next as Wayne Routledge managed to get in front of Bardsley and head the ball past Grant. With less than ten minutes gone the match was all square again but Stoke continued to pour forward looking to reassert themselves in a game which they must have felt was there for the taking.

First Charlie Boy attempted another shot from the outside of the box, after a delightful layback from Arnie, but could only watch as his shot hit the post. But whilst Stoke’s attacking play was as good as it has been this season they didn’t look as solid without the ever improving Clumsy and but for a deflection Siggurdsson could have given the visitors the lead. With Swansea still proving a threat and unable to score the elusive second goal Stoke might have been forgiven for cursing their luck as Shaqiri limped off at the half hour mark to be replaced, in a surprising move by Hughes, by Ramadan.

Yet Stoke continued to push forward and Charlie Boy managed to beat the keeper once more only to see his left foot strike hit the opposite post. Then Ramadan combined with Allen to send Arnie clear in the penalty box but the Austrian could only pull his shot onto the post after he had rounded Fabianski.

Watching the team come out for the second half most Stoke supporters could have been forgiven for thinking that, after our dominance in the opening forty-five minutes, Stoke wouldn’t be able to keep their momentum going but ten minutes into the second half the Potters finally regained the lead they deserved. After bamboozling the hapless Rangel, himself a first half substitute, Ramadan crossed the ball into the box and before Joe Allen could pounce, for what would have been a deserved goal, Mawson turned the ball into his own net.

Stoke had their skipper to thank for denying Swansea a chance to repeat their first half fight back when Shawcross managed to thwart Routledge as the Swansea winger suffered a moment of indecision in the Stoke penalty box.

Perhaps conscious of already losing one lead Stoke continued to push for a third to seal the game with Bony teeing up the ever eager Charlie Boy but the Scot could only push his shot wide but then Wilfried managed to get on the end of a drag back by Allen to head Stoke’s third which surely meant he three points would remain at the Bet365. Yet buoyed by the Boothen End Stoke continued to push for a fourth as Allen narrowly missed connecting with an Arnie cross and Bony saw what would have been a hat-trick header cleared of the line.

In the middle of the pitch the referee, the much loathed Michael Oliver, was having a quiet night by his standards but a Stoke match in which he was officiating wouldn’t be the same without a bad decision or two and he duly obliged by booking Arnie for a challenge in which the Austrian clearly got the ball. A bad decision, even by Oliver, can be forgiven but the fact that the referee seemed incapable of booking a Swansea player, even a horror tackle from The Swansea fullback on Phil Bardsley warranted nothing more than a slap on the wrist, and how close Oliver was to the Arnie tackle does raise the question what has Stoke ever done to him? Maybe he had a bad night out at Valentino’s as a youth?

Still Oliver’s ineptitude was a blessing when he seemed to give a penalty for a challenge by Pieters on Routledge only for him to overturn his decision and give a free-kick after his linesman intervened. For the record this Stoke fan thinks that once again Oliver got a penalty decision in a Stoke game wrong but I’m not complaining.

Now up to 12th, and with a few potentially easy games in November, Stoke should be looking to push on after what was probably their best performance of the season so far but as always there are a few things which need to be taken into consideration:

  • With Arnie, and possibly Shaqiri, missing for the trip to West Ham and after his impressive performance against Swansea, Ramadan has to start against the Hammers. There may be times when the young Egyptian needs to be wrapped in cotton wool but with his confidence up this is not the time.
  • Now that Wilfried has got off the mark hopefully the naysayers will give the Ivorian a rest but on Saturday, if Arnie and Shaqri are missing it may be, that for one match only, Stoke will need to get crosses into the box rather than trying to play beyond the Ivorian.
  • Pray that Clumsy is fit for Saturday! Charlie Boy did OK against Swansea but was I the only one that was apprehensive seeing Glenda so far up the pitch? Clumsy provides the legs in his partnership with Glenda and as good a player as Charlie Boy is, he is not renowned for his running.
  • Once again don’t get complacent. By some quirk of fate we have played the bottom three in successive games before we head off to London to play the team fourth from bottom. Whilst we can take heart from Stoke’s performance on Monday night we will need to improve if we are to have any hope of making it four wins out of four.

Stoke Giraffe of the Week           Joe Allen

Stoke Lemon of the Week           Erik Pieters

Match Ratings

Lee Grant – 7                         Another week with not a lot to do and had no chance for the Swansea goal

Phil Bardsley – 6                  Had problems with Routledge and will not want to see replays of the Swansea goal

Ryan Shawcross – 8             A pleasing trend is emerging where one or the other centre halves is having a good game even if their partner seems off the pace. This week it was the captain’s turn.

Bruno Martin Indi – 7         Not quite as dominant as in previous weeks and looked hurried on the ball.

Erik Pieters – 6                     Lemon of the week again! Not a bad game but easily the worst of Stoke’s performers. Lucky not to give away a penalty at the end.

Glen Whelan – 8                   Covered most of the pitch and was even Stoke’s most forward player at times however I much prefer to see him sitting in front of the Captain and the Beast.

Charlie Boy – 7                     Unlucky not to score and proved an able deputy for Clumsy but the dynamics looked wrong without the American.

Joe Allen – 9                          Was everywhere and unlucky not score. Set up two for Bony against his old teammates.

Shaqiri – 6                             Didn’t really get into the game before he limped off in the first half

Arnie – 9                                Must be getting frustrated at the number of chances he has missed but he is getting into the right positions and as always ran his socks off. Suffered an injustice at getting booked and will be missed against West Ham

Wilfried – 9                           Finally got the goals his team play deserved and continued to play the lone striker role to perfection.


Ramadan – 8                         Showed that when required he can be an able deputy to Arnie and Shaqiri and it is a shame Stoke’s second couldn’t be attributed to the young Egyptian

Super Jon – 6                       Came on for Bony but had little time to shine. If Shaqiri fails his fitness test expect Mystic Mark to play Super Jon on the wing against West Ham

Two Meter Peter – 6            Came on late and didn’t have a lot to do


Mark Hughes – 8                 To be honest I didn’t think playing Charlie Boy alongside Glenda would work but happy to be proven wrong and nice to see Hughes gave Ramadan a chance when Shaqiri got injured


Kevin Friend – 5                  Two Stoke bookings and none for Swansea despite Bardlsey being on the receiving end of the worst challenge of the match. Expect Oliver was disappointed at being overruled by his linesman over the non-penalty incident

Hull City 0 – Stoke City 2

Four matches unbeaten, two wins in a row and more importantly back to back clean sheets, finally Stoke’s season is starting to look like they may just end up in the top of the half of the table once the dust settles next year. Yet, as I mentioned after the Sunderland match, any celebrations must be tempered by a word of caution, this Hull City team was as bad, if not worse than the Sunderland team who visited the Bet365 last Saturday. But you can only beat what is put in front of you and on Saturday Stoke certainly did that.

Stoke started with the same eleven who beat Sunderland and both the boy and I breathed a huge sigh of relief when it was announced Phil Bardsley had recovered sufficiently to take his place in the starting XI. An old fashioned full back, In Johnson’s absence, Bardsley provides a steady influence down the right hand side and as proved against Hull he can get forward as well. With a little more luck he could have more than tested Marshall, in the Hull goal, and although Bony complained when Bardsley was unable to pick up his run at least the Scottish full-back was in the right place to deliver the cross.

With Bardsley providing a rock behind him Shaqiri has the platform to bring out all his party tricks and whilst his opposing fullback didn’t end up completely in a spin, Clucas will not be looking forward to coming across the Swiss maestro anytime soon. Seemingly given a licence to roam, Shaqiri tormented the Hull defence from the offset with a delightful through ball putting Arnie one on one with keeper, only for the Austrian to see Marshall save with his legs. But the Hull keeper didn’t stand a chance with Stoke’s opener as Shaqiri picked up the ball and drifted into space on the edge of the Hull box before curling a delightful strike into the top corner.

Stoke could, and should, have made more of their first half dominance with Bony being the biggest villain as he was put through by Shaqiri, who else, but he delayed too long and Michael Dawson was able to dive in and block the shot. An in form and confident Bony would surely have guided the ball into the bottom of the net and surely all Stoke fans must now be praying for that first Stoke goal for the Ivorian because once more Wilfried led the line well, holding the ball up when he had to and running to create the space for his midfielders to run into.

As the teams returned for the second half and even though Stoke were one goal to good, I admit I had a few nerves despite Stoke’s first half dominance as we still had to endure Hughes’ substitution bingo but once more Shaqiri was on hand to calm my fears. With a free kick in an almost identical position to where he scored the opener there didn’t seem to be any other conclusion as he stepped forward and stroked the ball over the wall and into the top corner of the Hull net. With a two goal cushion Stoke continued to push for the goals which would help to reduce their less than impressive goal difference with both Bony and Allen having chances. But it was Arnie who perhaps had the best of the lot as he majestically brought down an inch perfect long ball from Shaqiri only to see his resultant shot pushed away by Marshall’s outstretched hand.

With Stoke in total control Hughes delayed his customary substitution until the seventieth minute when he brought Mame on for Wilfried and with Shaqiri tiring the steam began to run out of the Stoke attackers’ legs. It was now time for Shawcross and the even improving Bruno Martins Indi to prove their worth to the team cause as Hull, led by the impressive Hernandez, but this Hull team seems to be bereft of ideas and whilst they peppered the Stoke box, their attacks seemed to consist of lofting the ball into the penalty area in the hope that they could somehow nick a goal from a knockdown.

In the stands the Hull supporters were leaving in droves well before the final whistle sounded and these supporters will all have missed the final action of the day as Shaqiri, Bardsley and Allen all picked up bookings for reacting when Clucas kicked the ball at his tormenter in chief’s back.

With Stoke out of the relegation zone for the first time since the opening weekend Hughes can feel vindicated after the criticism he endured earlier in the season but there are still a few things which need to be taken into consideration:

  • Broken record time! Sort out the subs bench! With Shaqiri tiring but an opposition on the ropes wouldn’t Saturday have been a perfect time to give Ramadan another twenty minutes first team action?
  • Keep the faith with Bony, if anything after Diouf’s cameo it has shown if Hughes wants to play this way then he needs an able back up to the Ivorian. Stoke have let the opposition back into the game each time Wilfried has been replaced. He may not be scoring at present but he offers so much more to the team than Super Jon, Two Meter Peter or Mame.
  • Remember don’t get complacent. This Hull team was as bad as Sunderland the week before and there will be better teams waiting around the corner.

Stoke Giraffe of the Week           Shaqiri

Stoke Lemon of the Week           Erik Pieters

Match Ratings

Lee Grant – 6                        Not a lot to do. Still needs to work on his communication. This week it was Shawcross who he nearly got into trouble

Phil Bardsley – 8                  Looking not just an able replacement for Johnson but serious competition

Ryan Shawcross – 7             Not quite as good as last week but still kept the Hull forwards quiet.

Bruno Martin Indi – 8         As responsible as anyone for the clean sheets in the last two matches.

Erik Pieters – 6                     A little unfortunate to get the Lemon of the Week but still looks like the weakest link in the backline

Glen Whelan – 7                   Same old Glenda!

Clumsy Cameron – 7           Not as influential going forward as in recent weeks but did the defensive work well.

Joe Allen – 7                          Wasn’t involved in the game as much this week but thankfully didn’t have to be

Shaqiri – 9                             Majestic

Arnie – 8                               A typical Arnie display, chances, non-stop running and constant waving of the arms in frustration.

Wilfried – 7                            A vital cog in the way this team plays. Will be missed if those Stoke fans who want to see him dropped get their way.


Mame – 6                               Ineffectual when he came on


Mark Hughes – 7                  Beginning to reap the benefits of a settled side


Kevin Friend – 6                  Let the game flow but could have showed some common sense after the whistle had blown.