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
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.