It’s good to be back…©PA Photos
A lot of the talk in the run up to the game was about the failed medical of Demba Ba and I was hoping that everyone remained focused on the task of getting 3 points and the management and team didn’t disappoint with a solid display on a difficult afternoon. It wasn’t the best game and it took some time for either team to get a hold of the ball but Stoke players to a man were desperate to put the disappointments of recent games behind them and it was a welcome return to our old friends urgency, will and determination who we have missed at the Brit on more than a few occasions this season.
The main talking points were as follows;
Team Selection/Set-up – There were a couple of changes to the side and if you’re a regular reader of my page you’ll understand just how happy I was to see Higginbotham back on the left. This happiness was soon met with confusion as for the second time in as many league games, Pennant started on the bench meaning that Delap was on the right and Wilson got another chance in the middle alongside Whitehead. Pulis stated after the match his reasoning for leaving Pennant out and it was clear for all to see as the pitch cut up as readily as Owen Coyle gets his pasty legs out and that coupled with wanting to keep a tighter leash on Taylor meant the wide man’s omission was a good decision. It was nice to see Tuncay get another game, he is there very much on merit despite Ric being absent on the day due to a family bereavement and once again got his chance in his more favoured, deeper role behind Jones.
Begovic – It was another good game by Asmir, who didn’t have anything like a frantic afternoon but what he did he did with an assured comfort as he kept another clean sheet. It was very much a baptism of fire for the Bosnian into the fun and games of a windy day at the Brit and he coped admirably with the conditions and for the most part made good decisions when the ball was in the air around him.
Higginbotham – I was delighted to see Higgy being given a chance on the left, it’s been a long time coming given Collins woeful form for the most part of this season. He capped a largely assured performance with a well deserved goal following a great run to the far post from a corner, you could sense the hunger of the player as he made sure that he got to the ball ahead of his marker and the delight was obvious. He did well going forward and his decision making on when to sit tight and when to overlap was much better than his predecessors’. The most significant contribution for me however was his talking and organisation at the back, the defensive unit as a whole looked much tighter and as one and whilst Danny looked a little rusty at times, that’s to be expected and will only improve with more game time.
Huth – The big German was once again his dominant self and was the better of the two centre backs as he nullified the usually lethal aerial threat of Davies attacking anything within a six foot radius ( I like to think of it as his ‘zone of terror’) When most eyes were comparing Cahill and Shawcross it was Huth who came out with the most plaudits as nothing got past him and this clean sheet, and indeed the excellent statistic of Stoke being the only club in the Premier League to have not conceded more than 2 goals in one game, is largely down to his presence back in the middle.
Wilson – Having been encouraged by Marc’s last few performances I was looking forward to seeing him back at the Brit on our smaller pitch in a game that was perfect for judging his recent improvement. Unfortunately for Marc, it was one that largely passed him by and his anonymity for me was quite concerning. I can honestly say I can only remember 3 things from Marc this game, his reluctance to challenge for headers, his poor free kick and him coming off. As I’ve said before, I think we’ll see the best of Marc next season, but I would continue with him certainly for the Cardiff game to give him another chance to impress as he is clearly part of our exciting future.
Jones – Kenwyne continues to mystify and frustrate in equal measure and Pulis’ insistence of praising him after a mediocre showing says to me that, like his last manager, he is struggling to motivate him. I’ve seen Kenwyne play like a god for us, leaping for every ball, chasing lost causes, being in the area for every move forward; today he did very little of any of those things. My main gripe with Kenwyne isn’t that he is lazy, I know that his laid back style is similar to Ric’s, that doesn’t bother me, it’s the lack of urgency to challenge aerially on a consistent basis. I lost count of the number of times the ball was sent high in his direction and he needed to stride, three or four paces tops to jump and challenge for the ball, but time and again he waited static expecting the ball to arrive and either made a half hearted hop where he was or simply didn’t bother. I’m not sure if Kenwyne is still suffering the effects of his personal problems or whether we are just realising the words of Steve Bruce about his frustrating inconsistency. That said, despite a below average performance, I still saw enough in the partnership up front of him and Tuncay to say it deserves a few more games to flourish which brings me onto…
Tuncay – Man of the Match – We wouldn’t have won this game without Tunny, he was absolutely everywhere and central to every single attacking move we made. Playing in his preferred position the Turk was playing like someone with a point to prove and he did exactly that. He showed much improved awareness of the system, especially defensively and at one point was even covering the full back who had gone walkabout, to me the instinct to get back and help out is testament to the progress he has made in fitting into our very rigid structure. At a time when Stoke have been on the verge of acquiring a new striker, Tuncay’s form has been most timely and perhaps illustrates that we may already have the answer to this particular question. Certainly his performances of late have been noticed by the manager too who said;
"Tunny has all the tools in the box and he's shown them today. I think he understands the ethos of the team and the club now, he's getting what the squad is all about. Sometimes it is difficult for players to come in here and understand what it is about and how hard they work, and I think now that is something he is trying to embrace"
Should I stay or should I go?©PA Photos
The praise Itself may be too little too late though for Tuncay as reports in the Turkish media have suggested a return to Fenerbahçe could be on the cards for the often frustrated playmaker. Being halfway through the transfer window I guess we will know one way or another in a couple of weeks the intentions of both the club and the player, and this fan along with many others, will hope that he stays at the club and helps push the team on to a top ten finish this season and beyond over the coming campaigns.
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