The game was far from pretty and the best moment of the first half was the whistle that ended it. The second half, however, was a different story as the players re-emerged boss eyed from the ear bashing they had at half time from Pulis and set about taking hold of the game, in the end winning by a perhaps flattering 3-0 score line to continue the odds defying record we have over the Baggies.
We ALWAYS beat West Brom...
The afternoon looked set to take a whole other direction as after only 11 mins Jermaine Pennant was taken of with a nasty looking Hamstring strain but the tone was set….by Tone as he sent on Tuncay as his replacement instead of the more predictable choice of Walters. The introduction of Tunny at this stage and indeed Walters for Matty towards the end proved somewhat of a masterstroke by Pulis as both were instrumental in all 3 goals. The main talking points are as follows;
Team Selection/Set Up – Once again Pulis defies his doubters by continuing to select an attacking line up and it was great to see an unchanged side from the one who beat Liverpool so convincingly just a week previous. Once again we saw the spine that had served us so well over the past couple of games in Begovic, Huth/Shawcross, Whitehead/Delap, Fuller/Jones and all excelled once more as the side kept it’s second successive clean sheet. As I alluded to above, the first half was pretty poor and we just seemed a yard off the pace and the second balls just weren’t dropping for us. The second half was much better though and the team showed more of the pressing and urgency we saw against Liverpool and once we went one nil up the game was always ours to lose.
The Penalties – I have heard many people talk about this over the last few days and in my opinion they WERE both legitimate penalties. However, the first penalty was a penalty according to the accepted rules of the game, that being that when a keeper rushes out off his line and goes to ground without taking the ball, rightly or wrongly any touch on the player is considered a penalty. Jones’ dive was particulary poor and he encouraged the contact but the reaction from the Baggies players was one of acceptance and the fingers seemed to point to Carson’s rush of blood rather than Jones’ theatrics. The second penalty was as stonewall as you get and the angle behind the players and Foy show Cox clearly taking out the man away from the direction of the ball, i.e. there was no attempt to even go for the ball and as such any challenge could never be considered ‘shoulder to shoulder’.
Begovic – I think I have mentioned him in my last few write ups and he deserves to be mentioned again after putting in another assured performance between the sticks. Asmir had little to do until late on but produced a couple of top saves to keep us in front and the relatively new back 4 look very comfortable with the young Bosnian behind them. There are stories in the press today that Asmir is happy at Stoke and now he is playing wants to stay here long term which is great news and as long as he keeps playing at this standard there is no reason for him to be dropped.
Wilkinson – Wilko came off a brilliant performance against Liverpool at the Brit with his confidence high so it was perhaps a bit of a come down to see Thomas running at, and more often than not past, him all afternoon. As I have suggested previously, Andy struggled on the larger pitch of the Hawthorns and against the pace of Thomas all afternoon and had Thomas possessed a good cross on him the game could have unfolded in a very different way. I think Pulis knows this and a new Right Back remains top of his ‘Dear Santa’ list and hopefully Wilko will stay with us as decent back up.
Shawcross – Ryan was Man of the Match and once again really looked to be enjoying playing alongside Huth in the middle, and to be honest I truly can’t think of a better defensive partnership in the league right now. This performance led to a few of the nationals calling for him to be selected for England and I think it’s only a matter of time before we see our Captain at Wembley but when that time will be only Capello knows.
Time for Ryan?
Pennant – It was sad to see Jermaine go off so early as he looked to be getting the better of the Albion full back and whilst his injury sounds as though it’s not that serious, his withdrawal illustrated how important getting his name on the dotted line is! There have been stories in the press of how much he is earning and how difficult his signing will be but I pray the player has enjoyed his time enough to do all he can to push this one through and that the change in management over in Zaragoza doesn’t throw a spanner in the works.
Tuncay – Tunny will have been chuffed with his early introduction to proceedings and played well in an unfamiliar position for him on the right. There were times when he wandered and left Wilko to cope alone but for everything he lacks in defensive duty, he adds in attacking threat. The balance here is a fine line and whilst Pulis has dictated that one is more important that the other in the past, he seems to have relaxed that stance somewhat as he continues to put faith in the Turk. That said, I just have a nagging suspicion that Tunny’s wage and need for first team football is going to play a part in him seeking pastures new and that will be a huge shame as he is an exciting and versatile talent, but we can’t expect a player of that quality to be happy sat on the bench. Still, if we continue to be as successful as we have been in the last few games he might not want to abandon the lure of European football so readily :)
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.