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.

Substitutes

Mame – 6                               Ineffectual when he came on

Manager

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

Referee

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

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Stoke City 1 – Hull City 2 (EFL Cup)

Seeing Mark Hughes’ team selection for the League Cup match against Hull I was pleased that the temptation to rest players was avoided, even though there were a sprinkling of fringe players with a chance to stake a claim for a game on Saturday, such as the likes of Ramadan and Grant. The absence of Shaqiri was a blow but if the little Swiss is close to match fitness then the better option has to be to make sure he is in the starting eleven against West Brom.

From the outset Stoke looked more cohesive than at any other time this season (apart from against lower league Stevenage), with Arnie, Johnson and even Shawcross all causing the visiting team problems. Yes, this was a Hull team that had rung the changes since their defeat by Arsenal but they still had the impressive Davies and two of their biggest ever signings in Marshall and Mason, playing. But it was the impressive Ramadan who was causing Hull the most problems, the young Egyptian, making his first start for the club, must surely be a contender for one of the three roles Hughes likes to play behind his centre forward.

And after twenty-four minutes Stoke finally made Hull pay for all their early attacking intent when Arnie picked up the ball and cutting inside curled a delightful strike past Marshall in the Hull goal. In the stands a rather paltry ten thousand fans at the Bet365 began to hope that this would be the kick start our season needed but for all our possession the same inability to convert pressure into goals came back to hurt us when Ryan Mason somehow managed to volley an even more impressive equalizer on the stroke of half time.

The second half followed a similar pattern to the first, Stoke pushing hard but to no avail, with Ramadan again at the forefront of most of the good things Stoke produced and if he, or the Beast, had managed to convert the chances that fell to them ten minutes from time things might have been different. However, as every Stoke fan knows, things never seem to be different and in injury time Markus Henrikson tapped in to send Stoke out and pile the pressure back on Mark Hughes.

However, no matter how disappointing the end result was, there were a few things the manager should be able to take from tonight’s game:

  • Although they had less to do than in previous games, Stoke’s defence did look more comfortable than they have in recent weeks.
  • Ramadan was a revelation. With Shaqiri fit Stoke now have three top class players vying for the two wide roles and tonight’s display should be taken as a warning for Arnie and the little Swiss that they may no longer be guaranteed a starting spot.
  • Although he worked tirelessly replacing Glenda, Cameron gave the ball away too cheaply and the balance of the midfield, although better, still did not seem quite right.
  • You still have the backing of the majority of the fans (for now). Only at Stoke could the crowd not decided whether they wanted to boo or applaud the team at the end of the match.

Stoke Giraffe:                    Ramadan

Stoke Lemon:                    Erik Pieters

Match Ratings

Lee Grant – 6                      Didn’t have a lot to do but did enough to put his hat in the ring for the West Brom match

Glenn Johnson – 6            Great going forward and solid at the back

Ryan Shawcoss – 6           Another defender who was most visible at the Hull end of the pitch.

Bruno Martins Indi – 7    The pick of Stoke’s defenders. Sunday’s experiment should be forgotten and the Beast should be pencilled in next to the Captain against West Brom

Erik Pieters – 5                   Still the weakest link in the defence

Geoff Cameron – 6          Looked more at home in midfield than he has done in the last few games

Joe Allen – 7                       Not as influential as he has been but I wish more of the Stoke players had his work rate

Imbula – 6                           Got forward well enough but still too often does not seem to be putting in the effort when tracking back

Ramadan – 9                      Best performance by a Stoke player this season

Bony – 6                               How many times can we blame lack of match fitness, needs a goal and then hopefully we will see the player that was at Swansea

Arnie – 7                              Another super finish from the Austrian

Substitutes

Mame Diouf – 7                Another impressive cameo but if he was to take Bony’s place would you be confident that he’d get his name on the scoresheet?

Charlie Boy – 6                  As usual worked hard when he came on but unable to influence the game

Manager

Mark Hughes – 6               Willing to make the changes in his team selection to try and win the game substitutions were positive

Referee                              

Chris Kavanagh – 7           Two games in a row where I have been impressed with the man in the middle. Has someone at Referee HQ been listening to the complaints coming out of the Potteries