Stoke City 2 – Leicester City 2

With Christmas approaching some might say Mark Hughes had been sampling the sherry a little early, whilst others might have wondered if the Stoke boss had been visited by the same spirit of inspiration that brought about the tweak in formation. Whatever the reason Stoke lined up without the suspended Arnie and surprisingly without his partner in crime, Shaqiri. With neither of Stoke’s flair players on the pitch, the question about how Stoke were going to create any chances against last season’s champions seemed a pertinent one.

Yet any concerns about Stoke’s creativity seemed to be banished in the opening exchanges as Allen and Bojan combined, in a sumptuous move, to tee up Super Jon who could only manage to volley the ball into the goalkeepers relived arms. At the back whilst Vardy, Slimani and Mahrez’s pace were forcing the Stoke defence to drop deeper and deeper you had the feeling Shawcross and Bruno, screened by the returning Glanda, were more than capable of dealing with anything Leicester managed to throw at them.

Then, just before the half hour, came the incident which will define this match, James Vardy’s dismissal for a two footed challenge. Was it a red card? I know a lot of people are shocked Craig Pawson decided to dismiss the Leicester striker but Vardy did jump into the tackle, he did go in with two feet and if he had connected he it could have been a career ending tackle. The fact that he didn’t connect shouldn’t be taken into consideration, whilst I don’t believe there was any malice Vardy made a mistake and should be punished accordingly. Thankfully he didn’t connect but if you still think he shouldn’t have been sent off, try and imagine what you would have been thinking if his feet had connected a couple of inches higher?

With Leicester feeling aggrieved, and down to ten men, their sense of injustice began to boil over as Danny Simpson handled Bojan’s chip into the penalty box and the referee had no choice but to point to the spot. Again, for some strange reason, this incident has brought about a good deal of debate with talk about Simpson’s hand being in a natural position but in my all my time watching football I can’t remember too many defenders defending as if they are doing the Flamenco!

From the resulting penalty Bojan scored and this triggered a meltdown in Leicester’s discipline as one after another players got booked for dissent or silly tackles. With Leicester imploding Stoke managed to get the second their dominance deserved when Allen pounced on a rebound after Schmeichel’s save, just before half time.

Leading two nil against ten men Stoke must have felt comfortable but with comfortable comes complacency and as Stoke seemed content to sit back on the lead Leicester began to smell blood and their ten men began to dominate Stoke’s eleven. However it took a substitution masterstroke from Ranieri to finally make the breakthrough as the explosive Demari Gray’s found his fellow substitutes head as Ulluo benefited from the new technology that tells the referee in seconds whether the ball had crossed the line.

Back in the game Leicester began to pile forward and it was evident they had sussed out Stoke’s weakness to the cross as ball after ball pinged into the Stoke boss and in the 88th minute it was Daniel Amartey who benefited from Grant’s failure to collect the high ball. Grant has been magnificent deputising for Jack Butland but if there is one area of his game that lets him down it is how he deals with crosses. Too often he decided not to come and when he does he either looks spectacular or foolish. And whilst Grant has been one of the major reasons for Stoke’s climb up the table it is fair to say Butland would have dealt with both of the crosses that led to Leicester’s goals with ease.

 

After two drawn games and two red cards Stoke now travel to Liverpool and Chelsea and even the most optimistic of us would find it hard to believe we are going to get anything from these games but even so we must look to compete and with this in mind there are a few things that need to be taken into consideration:

  • Super Jon played as well as Super Jon can play once again but the need for a centre forward is evident, especially as the Wilfried experiment seems to be over.
  • Behind the striker, in Stoke’s current 3-4-3 formation we need creative players and whilst Bojan showed glimpses in the opening exchanges he is nowhere near the player we saw a few years ago and Allen looked marginalised without Arnie or Shaqiri which makes the decision to leave Shaqiri on the bench baffling.
  • At 2-0 and even at 2-1 Stoek should have been pushing for the third goal which would have finished the game, instead we sat back and were punished. Against ten men we should be looking to dominate not hold on.
  • With Leicester in the ascendency and with his team not creating anything against ten men why bring on Charlie Boy when we should have been looking at the pace and creativity of Shaqiri or Ramadan. Hughes’ substitutions are predictable, unimaginative and worryingly at least five minutes too late. We need to be proactive not reactive.

Stoke Giraffe of the Week           Glenn Johnson

Stoke Lemon of the Week           Lee Grant

Match Ratings

Lee Grant – 6                        Maybe a shock but he really should have done better with both of Leiceser’s goals.

Glenn Johnson – 8              You get the feeling Johnson is the glue which is making Stoke’s new formation work.

Ryan Shawcross – 7             Unlucky not to keep Leicester’s first out.

Bruno Martin Indi – 7         Looked good for an hour but will not be pleased that the man he was brought to replace outmuscled him in the air.

Erik Pieters – 6                     Why has no one else noticed most of the goals Stoke concede emanate from the Dutchman’s flank

Glenda – 6                             Showed why he is an upgrade on Charlie Boy but started to panic as the game got away from Stoke

Giannelli Imbula – 8           Another good game from Stoke’s record signing and looked the most likely to break down Leicester’s stubborn defence.

Mame Diouf – 7                   Did enough at wing back but didn’t attempt to beat his opposite number once during the game.

Bojan – 6                                A surprise inclusion and did well for half an hour but faded from the game as it wore on

Joe Allen – 7                         As usual worked hard but became marginalised without the movement of Arnie or Shaqiri

Super Jon – 7                        Worked hard, as usual, and is probably Stoke’s first choice forward at the moment but that doesn’t say much

Substitutes

Charlie Boy – 6                     Came on to steady Stoke’s defence but could only watch as Leicester dominated!

Ramadan – 6                        Sadly, once again, didn’t have much time to make any impact.

Manager

Mark Hughes – 6                  Unusual starting XI but sadly a predictable insipid set of substitutions

Referee

Lee Mason –  7                      Got the sending off and penalty spot on but maybe should have sent off at least one of the Leicester players who were on yellow cards in the second half.

Advertisements

Arsenal 3 – Stoke City 1

As Stoke looked to end their Arsenal hoodoo, Mark Hughes brought back Joe Allen for the unlucky Walters and decided to stick with the 3-4-3 formation which had previously seen off Watford and Burnley. With no Super Jon the captain’s armband was passed to Charlie Boy and once the match commentator informed us that it was the Scot’s birthday everything felt right with the boy as if this confirmed his theory that, in the absence of The Captain, the honour to lead the team was being based on star sign rather than footballing ability.

Indeed, this theory seemed to be confirmed as Adam misplaced a pass early on which led to Arsenal rushing forward to attack Grant’s goal and, maybe buoyed by this mistake, it was evident Arsenal had been told to press the Stoke Captain quickly every time he received the ball. Yet despite Stoke’s midfield’s tendency to give the ball away needlessly it was Stoke who looked the more dangerous in the opening exchanges with Arnie being Arsenal’s tormenter in chief as he twice laid the ball back only for Joe Allen and Shaqiri to fluff their lines. There was even a potential goal of the season contender as Muniesa forced Petr Cech to tip over after a perfectly struck volley from what seemed like the centre circle.

It was therefore no surprise to anybody, apart from the Christmas Grinch on the Arsenal touchline, when Stoke took the lead after Xhaka assaulted Joe Allen in the Arsenal penalty area and Adam stepped up to stroke the resulting penalty home. Should Xhaka have been sent off? Initially I thought no but after seeing the replays, which Lee mason didn’t have the luxury of to be fair, it is clear Xhaka deliberately elbowed the Welshman and who knows what the result might have been if the Swiss midfielder, who was easily Arsenal’s best player, had been sent for an early bath. And of course on the side line the Christmas Grinch clearly thought Lee Mason got it wrong, presumably believing that Allen should have gotten his face out of the way!

One nil up at the Emirates might have seemed a dream scenario and things might have been different if Mustafi hadn’t injured himself a few minutes before Stoke took the lead but with Bellerin coming on at right back Arsenal began to look a lot more potent and Pieters in particular will not be wanting to see the Spaniard anytime soon as Bellerin continually looked to join the attack. Potent as he is going forward Bellerin may be the weakness in the Arsenal defence that other teams will look to exploit because he does leave the Arsenal right exposed as he looks to influence the attack.

But it was the Spaniard’s attacking intent which finally undid the Stoke defence three minutes before the interval when his low cross was met superbly by Walcott who volleyed past a helpless Grant in the Stoke goal. 1-1 quickly became 2-1 five minutes after half time when Pieters, out of position after receiving treatment, could only watch on as Ozil ghosted through a disorganised defence to head past a stranded Grant.

Even a goal behind you still felt Stoke had a chance even after Grant made a smart save from Oxlade-Chamberlin and if Mame had managed to do better with a free header from six yards out we might have been lucky enough to see the Christmas Grinch throw a festive tantrum. Instead Stoke seemed to lose a little spirit after this miss and to shake things up Mystic Mark decided to turn to one of his go to men in Two Meter Peter and if Crouch’s first touch, a downward header, had sneaked in we may have talking about a substitution masterclass but instead the truth was as soon as Stoke introduced the veteran striker they began to fade from the game.

And it was left to the Arsenal sub, Alex Iwoba, to put the final nail in Stoke’s coffin as he steered a low shot past the diving Grant and into the bottom corner to seal yet another defeat for Stoke at the Emirates.

This game was always going to be difficult and in the main Stoke can take some comfort in the way they created chances against a team who are going to be up near the top of the table come the end of the season but as we enter a hectic festive period there are still a few points to consider:

  • It seems 3-4-3 is here to stay, at least until the Captain returns, and so the next question has to be who gets the nod to play in the front three. Arnie played well, at least for the first half, in the false nine role but at home where Stoke will be expected to attack a more dedicated striker will provide a greater threat. At least for the Southampton game I would bring back Super Jon.
  • I know I am beginning to sound like a broken record once more but why is Adam still playing when Glenda is fit again? The Scot may be our best striker of the ball we have but he gives the ball away too cheaply to play the covering role in front of the defence. Arsenal clearly noticed he could be ruffled and every time Charlie Boy received the ball he was closed down quickly. A tactic I am sure Southampton and Leicester will have noted produced dividends.
  • Another broken record moment! When we bring on Two Meter Peter we are broadcasting to world how we are going to change our game plan and being honest it is not working. It was good to see both Ramadan and Ngoy getting onto the pitch and both fit into the way we were playing, and creating chances, much better than Crouch.
  • Although he doesn’t get the Giraffe of the week the improvement, in such a short amount of time, in Mame’s defending has to be noted. His last ditch sliding clearance shows he is willing to do the dirty work which playing wing back entails.

Stoke Giraffe of the Week           Bruno Martins Indi

Stoke Lemon of the Week           Charlie Adam

Match Ratings

Lee Grant – 8                        A couple of memorable saves and once again couldn’t do a lot with any of Arsenal goals.

Glenn Johnson – 7              An off day for the usually impressive Johnson

Marc Muniesa – 7                Defended well enough and, as always, was eager to join the attack.

Bruno Martin Indi – 9         Giraffe of the week for the second match in a row and getting a permanent deal for the Dutchman has to be Stoke’s number one priority in January.

Erik Pieters – 6                     Must be having nightmares about the pace of Bellerin but showed if you push the Spaniard back he is not the best defender in the world.

Charlie Boy – 5                     Captain for the day, still gave the ball away too cheaply and this weakness in his game is beginning to be spotted by the opposition

Giannelli Imbula – 6           Looked good bringing the ball forward but, like his midfield partner, gave the ball away too cheaply and too often.

Mame Diouf – 7                   Played well at wing back but loses a point for not even getting a free header on target.

Shaqiri – 6                             Not the little Swiss’ best day

Arnie – 7                                Looked at home playing as a false nine in the first half but ran out of steam in the second

Joe Allen – 8                        Ran all over the pitch and his knack of being in the right place led to Stoke’s penalty

Substitutes

Two Meter Peter – 6            Could have been the ultimate impact player if his first touch had gone in but in the end didn’t bring much more to the party

Ramadan – 7                        Didn’t have much time to make any impact.

Julien Ngoy – 7                    Like Ramadan didn’t have long on the pitch but good to see a product of Stoke’s academy getting their debut

Manager

Mark Hughes – 6                  I’m more convinced after this display about the change in formation but the reliance on substitution by numbers is beginning to grate

Referee

Lee Mason – 7                       Maybe could have sent Xhaka off but the man in the middle didn’t have the benefit of television replays that we did. Otherwise refereed the match well.

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.

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.

Stoke City 0 – Bournemouth 1

Our first match back after an enforced break and those fans who felt the internationals could have a detrimental effect on our recent run of good form can sip their pints with a knowing I told you so expression on their faces. With Glenda picking up an injury whilst with the republic of Ireland and Clumsy’s knee still not up to ninety minutes, Joe Allen was forced to drop deeper whilst Bojan returned to the starting XI just behind Wilfried.

From the outset however it was evident that Charlie Boy’s sterling display against Swansea was a one off as he had his pocket picked repeatedly by the Bournemouth midfield whilst beside him Joe Allen looked out of his depth in the position he was supposedly brought to play in. With Bournemouth so dominant in midfield and Shawcross and co dropping ever deeper, scared to death by the pace of Wilson, it was no surprise when Wilson tore through the Stoke defence only to be scythed down by Shawcross before he could get his shot away. Make no mistake this should have been a penalty but the man in the middle, Roger East, somehow decided to play on.

In the end it didn’t matter as Nathan Ake was given the freedom of the Stoke penalty box as he rose to head in from close range to put the visitors a goal to the good. After the match Hughes told the press that his team were unsure of how to defend a free-kick from the by line, an excuse I wouldn’t accept from the boy’s team yet alone a Premiership club with ambitions of finishing in the top half for a fourth successive season.

Even after going a goal behind it took Stoke until the dying minutes of the first half to respond to the battering they were receiving with the midfield trio especially looking off the pace, whilst on the wings both Arnie and Shaqiri had forty-five minutes they are likely going to want to forget.

Surely things could only get better in the second half?

After only three minutes it looked like they were going to as Bojan reacted first after Federici acrobatically denied Wilfried a third goal in two home games. Picking the ball up on the edge of the penalty box the Spaniard felt Francis’ foot on his and jumped into the air, landing a perfect Triple Lutz before he crashed back down to the turf. Yes, the dive was excessive but despite what Eddie Howe thinks this was a penalty and when Bojan placed the ball on the penalty box you felt Stoke were back in the match. A minute later the ball was rebounding back of the crossbar and anyone who has watched Stoke regularly over the years knew deep down that this wasn’t going to be our day.

And so it proved even after Two Meter Peter and Super Jon’s introduction and a change of tactics to resemble Stoke in the Pulis era brought about much more of a goal threat. Shaqiri really should have scored after Arnie pulled the ball back to present the Swiss winger with a clear shot on goal and on another day Arnie’s shot from just outside of the box would have trickled the other side of the post. The final confirmation Stoke were heading for a first defeat since September arrived when Adam’s cross found the head of Super Jon rather than Two Meter Peter, who would surely have done better with the chance and when an injury time goalmouth scramble resulted in the ball being kicked off the line you knew the Cherries would be returning to the south coast with all three points.

With Stoke only dropping one place to 13th we really shouldn’t be too worried about not getting anything out of a match that on another day we could have won but with Watford and Burnley next there are a few things which need to be taken into consideration:

  • A player’s true worth is sometimes only ever realised when they are missing and so it has proved with Glenda and Clumsy. With one or two of them in the team the gaps between the midfield and the defence suddenly shrink and Allen is able to play in a position that allows him to get past Wilfried. Hughes and his backroom staff need to move heaven and earth to get one, or both, of these players back into the starting XI
  • A second quite game in a row for Wilfried highlighted by Bojan’s inability to get past him. If Allen isn’t available to play in the number 10 role Stoke need to find a plan B, maybe trying to get more balls into the box from wide areas.
  • Charlie Boy had a shocker and it is evident he is not the answer if Clumsy and, or, Glenda are missing. A potential solution would be to play Muniesa in this role, he has the defensive ability and is technically proficient. I understand he is not keen to play in this role but he isn’t going to get into Stoke’s first choice team at either centre half or left back.
  • If we really didn’t know how to defend the free-kick from which Ake scored then for the next week Stoke need to concentrate on defending set pieces. We have let too many goals in from set pieces this season and we need this to stop, now!

Stoke Giraffe of the Week           Phil Bardsley

Stoke Lemon of the Week           Charlie Adam

Match Ratings

Lee Grant – 7                         When called on did well and produced a couple of excellent saves. No chance for the goal

Phil Bardsley – 8                  Sad to see the Scot go off with an injury as in the first half he seemed to be the only Stoke player who realised we were playing a game

Ryan Shawcross – 7             Should have been sent off for challenge against Wilson and should have scored at the other end.

Bruno Martin Indi – 6         Good on the ball and strong in the tackle, dropped a point because he kept on dropping too deep, in comparison to Shawcross, which allowed Wilson the freedom of the park

Erik Pieters – 7                     A bit unlucky to concede the free kick which led to the goal. Had a good battle with the Bournemouth wingers and in the majority of cases came out on top

Charlie Boy – 4                     Had a shocker.

Joe Allen – 6                          Playing deeper his price tag looks more realistic than when he is playing further up the pitch.

Bojan – 5                               Hasn’t really performed for the last eighteen months and maybe this match could have been his swansong

Shaqiri – 6                             Should really have scored from Arnie’s pull back and whilst he huffed and puffed didn’t really influence the game like we know he can

Arnie – 7                                Not his best game but as always he looked for the ball and ran his socks off.

Wilfried – 6                           Had one good chance which led to the Stoke penalty but overall didn’t change his game enough to compensate for Bojan rather than Allen playing behind him

Substitutes

Glenn Johnson – 7               Subdued first outing after his injury

Super Jon – 6                       Another who should have scored but didn’t.

Two Meter Peter – 8            Created havoc once he came on and with better service might have been able to snatch at least a point for the home team.

Manager

Mark Hughes – 7                  Went to the well once too often with Charlie Boy and playing Bojan clearly didn’t work but kudos for not just throwing on Two Meter Peter but more importantly changing the tactics to get the best out of the big man.

Referee

Roger East – 4                  To be honest I don’t think he was as bad as most people are saying but he was dreadful. Should have given Bournemouth a penalty and didn’t get a grip on the away team’s time wasting.

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.

Substitutes

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

Manager

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

Referee

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.

Substitutes

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

Manager

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

Referee

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