Captain Material?…©PA Photos
The less said about the game itself the better, so I’ll get straight into the talking points;
Team Selection/Set up – The team remained unchanged from the Bolton victory aside from Collins coming in for the injured Higginbotham, Pulis keeping faith with the side that ground out a result against Owen Coyle’s men the week before. Once again Pennant was on the bench meaning Delap was on the right, which again illustrated our lack of attacking intent down that side. I’m sure the team is told the same things most weeks but in this game we saw a quite obvious step backwards to our earlier days in this league with woeful possession and use of the ball, our back line was so deep they were virtually on Asmir’s lap and the you could have driven a 747 through the gap between midfield and attack. It seems that Pulis is trying his best to accommodate Wilson, despite his poor showing the week before, and today was much the same as the game passed him by. By playing Wilson, Pulis abandons the concept of two wingers, which means Delap on the right, which means our out balls are restricted to hoofs up field or down the left to an out of sorts Matty who is often double marked with the awful Collins behind him adding insult to injury.
Shawcross – I don’t think Ryan should be Captain. I think he will be a great Captain one day but not at the moment, he’s not a talker and since he has had the burden of the armband his game seems to have suffered considerably. This game was his worst for some time and if we’re honest he has been well below par this season, certainly not at the level of his defensive partner Huth. This was compounded by his silly challenge which gave away a penalty and led to his sending off meaning he will miss the next two games including a tricky away trip to Anfield.
Collins – I feel like a broken record on this one, He was turned inside out by Duff time and time again and alas once again played his part in us conceding with a bizarre toe poke back into his area for Johnson to set up the first goal. I’ve almost lost the energy to get annoyed on this one, I remain steadfast in my wish that he never plays for Stoke again in any capacity. Pulis clearly has his own doubts as following Ryan’s sending off he took off Collins and brought on Faye, himself a peripheral figure who has seen better days. Left Back is the position that needs the most attention this window, I would sooner see Wilko cover over there, as indeed he did admirably today, and play Shotton at Right Back, but I’m hoping that Pulis addresses this in the next week or so to finally sort this troubled area out.
Wilson – The Wilson experiment, for me, is over. As I have said above, it seems his inclusion has upset the balance entirely, benching Pennant, putting pressure on the rest of the team and it’s shape. The game passed him by again and he has shown nothing to me to warrant the negative impact he is currently having so I plead with the Manager to leave him on the bench or to gamble by leaving him in and bringing Pennant back. I genuinely believe he will be a good player and we do have a chance to bed him in but I think we’ll only do this if Jermaine comes back in as with two wingers the opposition’s midfield is pushed back allowing Wilson the space and time to sit in front of the back four in the quarterback like role he showed us he was capable of at Old Trafford.
Fuller – Ric is my favourite player, the best player to have played for Stoke, in my opinion, in my 25 years of supporting the team. When I heard there was a possibility of him leaving I felt physically sick and feared the worst, that we would lose the one player we have who can singlehandedly change and win a game for us. Ric is our talisman and has been vital to the way we play for years now and despite murmurings to the contrary, we still base our game largely on that and to consider selling him when that’s the case, especially with an unhappy Tuncay in the background, is tantamount to wishing a relegation battle on ourselves. That said, the pragmatist and businessman in me also thinks that the club may well have good reason to consider selling Ric, his age, his injuries, his attitude and perhaps most importantly his rumoured demands of £60,000/week. I don’t begrudge Ric one last payday, and I know he has been harping on about an extension for some time but his demands, if true, simply can’t be met by Stoke and I think the talks with Sunderland are a subtle way of the club playing their hand as best they can by letting Ric realise exactly that. What I hope will happen will be that no-one will take him with those demands and he comes back to Stoke, where he is idolised, to see out his career with a modest but realistic extension/pay rise in recognition of his value to the team and club as a whole. Whilst he remains at the club we can continue our search for his replacement, one such option being Ba who sadly failed a medical with us but remains an option longer term having shown a willingness to join the club. To me it’s important that we have Ric and his successor at the same time so we can have a period of experimentation to understand whether or not any replacement can fill the big man’s shoes as well as we hope.
He's bigger than me and you...©Getty Images
Carew – I feel sorry for John, no sooner had he signed than we were reading negative comments about him on the club’s forums that I think were more to do with the poor timing of the revelations of Ric than the actual signing of a striker with considerable pedigree. Carew, who is out of contract at the end of the season, has been Villa’s top goal scorer for the last 3 seasons, he has played for a number of high profile teams , has Champions League experience and is a perfect fit for our direct style. John is NOT a Fuller substitute so I hope that he is not lumbered with the stigma of being the catalyst for Ric discussing his exit, we were looking for a successor to our mercurial Jamaican well before Carew entered the fray. I’d like to welcome John to the club, hopefully it will give Jones a kick up the backside as in his brief appearance he showed how to trap, protect and use the ball better than I have seen for some time from the inconsistent Kenwyne. It remains to be seen how we will use John, my bet will be that he will play as the deep striker behind Kenwyne in the hope of the latter rediscovering his goal scoring touch further up the pitch.
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