Walters wins it for Stoke...
After last week, many dreaded the naming of the team but I think all were happy with the return of Pennant on the right to complement Etherington across on the left as well as Delap coming back into his favoured position in the middle alongside the industrious Whitehead. As ever there were plenty of talking points that I will do my best to cover here!
Team Selection/Set up – The team chosen by the Manager this week had a lot more pace and adventure as well as a much healthier balanced feel to it. Delap and Whitehead worked hard in the middle as Pennant and Etherington tore into Blackburn down the sides. I guess the only gripe was Huth back out at Right Back, but Faye played well coming back into the side and Huth, whilst unspectacular, didn’t have too much trouble on his side. It was nice to see Walters get his goal too, Pulis has been singing his praises which to me says he has been bought to replace Mama and as such Fuller won’t be back into the starting XI anytime soon. It was so encouraging to see so many chances being created (I think it was 8 shots on target) and once again the woodwork took a battering, though this time it was twice from Rory throws!
Whitehead – Dean was named as the Sponsor’s Man of the Match and I for one was flummoxed. I thought the team as a whole were great but if I had to have picked one player who didn’t do brilliantly, it would have been him. Now I have read all the forums recently and all are singing Whitehead’s praises almost without exception so I made a point, as always, of taking in a re-run of the game and I stand by my original assertion, Whitehead didn’t have the best game, he improved second half but his first half was far from a Man of the Match performance. My main issues were when he tried to pass the ball forwards, twice he tried to hit the ball into space in the final third where 3 Stoke players were breaking into, twice he failed miserably with the move breaking down. The other instance was when we were pushed high up the pitch with Walters and Jones in line with each other both facing him with their backs to goals and Dean breaking forward with the ball and he passed it right into the middle of the space between the two of them. I think Dean has had a lot of knockers since he moved here and his price tag is pretty hefty so any above average performance is met with gushing praise, he did have an above average game but not quite the cape wearing one man show some had mooted.
Pennant – How we have cried out for a right sided Etherington and how he has delivered. It’s important to say that JP is not yet fully fit so will only get better, but Stoke should get a contract in front of him before the window opens as he looks ready made to be a Stoke player. He had a better second half of the game, in fact, in the first half he was calling for the ball in space and was all too often entirely overlooked by his colleagues, it may well be that they are so used to going through the middle or out to the left? One thing that goes against him is his tendency to not put his foot in as much and turn his back on challenges/blocking the ball, but I’m sure it’s just a case of getting more time to train and play with us. He could turn out to be every bit as significant a signing as Kenwyne.
Etherington – Another game, another assist for Matty, he is such an important player for us. However, It pains me to see how he is being ignored by Capello and I can only hope that him being continually overlooked doesn’t have a negative effect on him as he has been chasing a recall since he started to show good form last season. Fabio Capello told us all how he wanted to give other players a chance and how it didn’t matter who they played for, people would get picked on merit. Absolute rubbish…. No other English player has as many assists at Matty and the fact he has picked Shaun Wright Phillips/Joe Cole over him is a joke when both have been woeful so far this campaign, in fact I’m not even sure SWP has played much at all. Keep up the good work Matty, you’re appreciated by Stoke fans and indeed many others all over the World and hopefully you will still get your chance for England.
Relegation/Europe – Being a Stoke fan has always been a roller coaster of emotions so it didn’t come as too much of a shock that talk went from ‘Relegation’ and ‘Pulis Out’ to talk of Europe in the space of less than a week. Pulis will continue to frustrate, as he does every season, but as he has also done every season, he will continue to push the club forwards step by step, so expect many more ups and downs, we’re barely into the season and it’s a long time to go until May.
Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @espn_stoke for all the latest Stoke City news and up to the minute reflection and rants.