In a game that could have been a throwback to this very fixture at the old Victoria Ground, Stoke took their first away point of the season on a sweltering day at St Andrews. It was a typical Stoke.v.Birmingham game, long ball after long ball, head tennis around the middle and, once more, an unhealthy reliance on Mr Delap and his not so secret weapon.
The game started well and was actually well balanced and failry open with both sides having chances to score in the first ten minutes. Stoke's rhythm was slowed somewhat with the withdrawl of Beattie after 11 mins with a knee injury following a goalmouth scramble when he was turned through the air and landed akwardly. He was replaced by Kitson, who looked deterrmined to stake his claim for a regular starting spot, he may well get the chance should Beattie's injury keep him out for the next 2 or 3 games.
Stoke actually had good territorial advantage for much of the game but lacked the qualitty once more to take advantage, instead relying on the many, many long throws from Delap and set pieces which on this occasion were left to Etherington despite Lawrence being on the pitch. Once again, Stoke looked out of ideas as time after time the midfield were gifted the ball with space in front of them but instead of taking the ball forward, would stop, look up and attempt to pick out a pass, even if it meant going backwards. The rigidity that is clearly in place around the shape of the side is something that clearly stifles the team as an attacking force away from home and if we are pick up more points this season away from the Britannia, it is vital that we allow a sensible degree of freedom in the middle of the park.
This may well be something that Gerry Francis and Peter Reid can help the manager with, the former having had a positive effect on the often more defensive mindset of the stubborn Stoke manager last season. Reid, who Stoke are hoping to make the new Assistant Manager next week as reported here on Friday, was spotted in the stands sat next to Francis and they will have had plenty of notes to feed back to the manager as he looks to bolster his backroom staff following a number of key departures over the Summer.
A Man of the Match performance from young Ryan Shawcross who looks more assured and composed with every game...
Sorensen - 8
Wilkinson - 6
Shawcross - 9 (Man on the match)
Faye - 8
Higginbotham - 7
Lawrence - 7
Delap - 6
Whelan - 6
Etherington - 8
Fuller - 7
Beattie - 6
Kitson - 7
Whitehead - 6
We will all have a better idea of what the future will look like come next Tuesday when the Transfer Window closes, but the need for more quality on the ball was as evident today as it was over the last week as we took in an opening day win and a Anfield drubbing. I would expect at least 4 players coming in over the next week to add to the first XI, a fullback, a midfield playmaker and a 2x winger/forward player to bring some much needed pace into the side to share the burden that seems to fall at the feet of Etherington and Fuller week after week.
I have a feeling that this last week or so of the window will be as entertaining and painful as ever for the Stoke faithful but one which will hopefully see us bring in the kind of players we so desperately require and not more panic signings from the lower divisions...
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