With no Glenn Johnson due to injury, me and The Boy sat down to study Mystic Mark’s team selection with trepidation. Would Hughes switch Clumsy from the centre of midfield, where he had been responsible for an upturn in Stoke’s fortunes or would Mame get the nod after his heroics at fullback last year? In the end the Stoke manager opted to bring back Phil Bardsley who I felt had been unfortunate to be dropped for Clumsy earlier in the season, maybe Mystic Mark’s bingo machine has broken down once and for all!
Everybody knows the next seven games are vitally important for Stoke’s season and we have to be thankful that this run of fixtures kicked off with arguably the worst team in the division up first. In short, Sunderland were woeful, even though they showed more attacking attempt than at any time this season they hardly created a decent chance and when Van Aanholt limped off, after trying to push Shaqiri off the ball, they were spent as an attacking force. This is not to say Stoke were perfect, against better teams we will have to work harder and be a lot more clinical with any chances that we create but for once it was fun to sit back and watch a match where Stoke were totally in control.
And the funs started early as a slick move involving Stoke’s trio of tricksters, with Shaqiri splitting the Sunderland defence to find Arnie, who looking up and spotted Joe Allen running into the space made by Wilfried. One delightful chip and an equal ably courageous header later Stoke were one nil up after only eight minutes.
At the other end if Sunderland had any hope of an equaliser then it would have had to have come from the boot of Jermaine Defoe but The Beast and Shawcross managed to keep the diminutive striker quiet apart from a snap shot which was brilliantly blocked by the Stoke captain. Up front Stoke’s forwards played more cohesively than in any other game of the season, led by the ever willing Arnie who seemed to be taking glee in his torment of the Sunderland right back and the Austrian can feel unlucky that he didn’t get on the scoresheet. Another who can feel disappointed at not registering a goal is Clumsy who was picked up by the impressive Shaqiri and after having his first shot blocked could only look on in frustration as Jordan Pickford somehow managed to save his follow up.
To add to the Stoke forward line’s menace Wilfried had his best game in the red and white, holding up the ball for Allen and co to run past him and linking up play well. One such instance almost allowed Arnie to get on the scoresheet as Bony played a wicked return ball into the penalty area which Arnie narrowly missed getting a foot too. Stoke’s second came just as Sunderland were looking towards there halftime oranges as Shaqiri found Shawcross in the box and although the Stoke skipper’s shot was blocked Joe Allen, who else, was there to drive the ball past a despairing Pickford.
With Van Aarnholt off the pitch Sunderland looked bereft of ideas as Stoke looked for a third which would surely have opened the floodgates even Shawcross somehow found himself with the ball at his feet on the edge of the Sunderland box but no matter what Stoke tried the goal that would have settled the game was not forthcoming, not even when a curling shot by Bony was parried into the path of Allen. Maybe the Welshman is human after all.
As the clock ticked over to the hour mark myself and the boy watched with dread for Mystic Mark to make his usual substitution and we were not disappointed when after sixty-four minutes the Stoke manager replaced Phil Bardlsey with Charlie Boy and moved Clumsy to right back. I can only hope that Bardlsey had picked up an injury otherwise I am unable to fathom this change. Why mess with an obviously winning formula? And why play two players, Allen and Clumsy in positions where they have hardly excelled this season?
The result of this substitution was apparent straight away as Stoke lost their dominance in the middle of the park and whilst I am critical of Hughes for his initial change I must applaud him for half of the double substitution which restored some normalcy to the game. Replacing Joe Allen for Muniesa allowed not only Clumsy to revert to his usual place next to Glenda but with the game surely won gave our goal machine a bit of rest before the Hull match next weekend. The second part of the double substitution though exposed the flaws in the bench that Mystic Mark persists with each week. Although Super Jon has performed heroics for Stoke since we returned to the Premiership both he, and Two Meter Peter, do not provide the same threat as they did in their younger years and on Saturday this was evident once more.
With all of Stoke’s substitutes used the home team continued to push for a third and although Charlie Boy hit the crossbar and Arnie was left fuming as Super Jon failed to find him with a return pass, Stoke were unable to breach the Sunderland back line and the rest of the match was relatively uneventful as Stoke managed to pick up their first three points of the season.
A first win under the belt will fill the Stoke squad with much needed confidence but even though we have a number of winnable games there are still a few things Mystic Mark be aware of as we head to Hull:
- The brief five-minute cameo of Clumsy at right back demonstrated this is not his best position. Whilst Johnson is out injured Bardsley has to be our right back. He may not be the best going forward but he is the best defender and Shaqiri is not the best at tracking back.
- Sort out the subs bench! Only one of Super Jon or Two Meter Peter needs to be on the bench which would free up a space for Ramadan or another young player to gain first team experience.
- Please don’t drop Wilfried. He may not have scored since he joined Stoke, or even this year, but Stoke have looked less of an attacking threat after he has been replaced in the last three matches.
- Don’t get complacent, this Sunderland team was shite!
Stoke Giraffe of the Week Arnie
Stoke Lemon of the Week Super Jon
Lee Grant – 6 Didn’t have a lot to do. Needs to communicate better with his defence
Phil Bardsley – 7 An old fashioned full back who did what was required and did it well
Ryan Shawcross – 8 Outstanding block to deny Defoe and even got an assist for Allen’s second.
Bruno Martin Indi – 8 Building an impressive understanding with Shawcross
Erik Pieters – 7 Not a lot to do but like Bardsley did it well
Glen Whelan – 7 Another good job plugging the gaps when his teammates streamed forward
Clumsy Cameron – 8 Once again worked well with Glenda and is increasingly finding himself with goal scoring opportunities
Joe Allen – 9 Two more goals for the Welsh messiah, let’s just hope he stays fit
Shaqiri – 8 Popped up everywhere and seemed to split the Sunderland defence at will with his killer through balls
Arnie – 9 Set up the first goal and could have scored a couple himself if his teammates had been on his wavelength. Never stopped running.
Wilfried – 8 Held the ball up and linked the play well. That first goal must surely arrive soon
Charlie Boy – 6 Apart from hitting the cross bar was disappointing and gave the ball away too often and too cheaply
Muniesa – 7 Looked at home on the wrong side of defence and even managed a surge or two into the opposition half
Super Jon – 5 Not his best game and his performance was nowhere near as good as the man he replaced
Mark Hughes – 6 Glad he didn’t tinker with Clumsy in midfield and played two fullbacks at fullback but his substitutions are too predictable and am I the only one who sees that they are not working?
Mike Jones – 6 Let a few hefty challenges on Wilfried and Shaqiri go in the opening exchanges but on the whole a decent game. Our lucky ref!