Zig a Zig Arrrghhh!©PA Photos
Hopes were relatively high of coming away from our near rivals with something given the Blues’ poor form of late but Pulis, not one to disappoint, threw a curveball by naming Wilson and Pugh as full backs and keeping the unimpressive Jones in the side.
There is quite a bit to discuss so I’ll get straight to the main talking points…
Team Selection – This one really came out of the blue, we had no idea who was going to go where, we had seen Delap and Whitehead both used at full back so it was a big surprise to see Wilson line up there. The decision seemed even more staggering given that both Higginbotham and Wilkinson were fit to play, though the latter has had a number of niggly injuries. The ever reliable Walters came in for the injured Etherington (not on the bench) and Pennant got another chance to cement his credentials on the right, in front of Wilson.
Team Setup – I have split selection and setup this week as I felt the latter deserved a bit more prominence. I’ve eluded to the astonishment felt at the team selection and it seems that Pulis made a very conscious decision to include two players on the pitch in the full back positions who are better with the ball at their feet and able to add more offensively. Since the Liverpool game there has been increased discontent amongst the City faithful but ironically since that game we have had nigh on 50% of possession and not the usual 30-40%, and this latest move by Pulis, to me anyway, is a clear indication of a desire to mix things up.
In this game we saw the full backs use the ball better and (god forbid) get across the halfway line throughout. I also noticed a concerted effort to not ‘hoof’ balls through but chip them towards Jones/Carew chest height, whether or not it was this or just the shape of the moon that saw KJ have an improved game will remain to be seen. It’s therefore particularly disheartening to hear and read of further unrest amongst the fans based on the unfortunate result with little recognition of a huge shift in emphasis of play. I just hope that Pulis doesn’t listen to the nay sayers and persists with this more palatable formula as it WILL bring success, in fact it perhaps makes it all the more frustrating that we failed to bring any ball playing full backs in, I guess the scale of any transition will be magnified and concluded one way or the other in the Summer transfer window, as always I can’t wait…
Begovic – I was gutted that Asmir was caught out on that late shot having had little to do in the game and it’s making me nervous that he has been singled out for criticism a couple of times in the last month or so. I fully believe that bar a monumental drop in confidence and performance, Asmir should continue as our Number 1, though with the Bosnian FA currently pursuing a complaint against him, that decision could well be taken out of our hands.
Wilson – Having criticised Wilson in the past it’s only fair to recognise the much improved performance he had in the right full back position this game. I’ve not seen Marc play here before and he had seemingly not been in the manager’s thoughts for this position in the past so his inclusion was a surprise to all. He handled it all well though and I was impressed by his positioning and impact in what is an unfamiliar role for him as he sniffed out and started attacks in equal measure. It seems the full back position affords Marc the time and space he needs to look up and pick a pass when in possession and the same when he can see an opposition attack unfold in front of him as opposed to around him in midfield. Based on what I saw on Saturday I would certainly not hesitate in playing him there again, in fact I would encourage it.
Shawcross - Man of the Match – I’ve been a bit concerned for much of this season with Ryan’s contributions but he was back to his best at the heart of defence with a commanding display befitting the armband. He seemed to have put the poor performances behind him and played like we all know he can, completing the awesome twosome in the middle of our revitalised defensive unit. I also noticed that he seemed to have more of a voice and wasn’t afraid to boss and pull players around when organising those around him, it’s not something we’ve seen much of this season so let’s hope he continues in much the same way for the remainder of this campaign.
Delap – I was glad to see Rory and Deano in the middle but for a few games now he has looked jaded and struggles as the game wears on with lazy balls forward or tired swings at the ball/player. I still believe Rory has plenty to offer us both as an excellent covering midfielder and a potent weapon from the sidelines but his age is catching up with him and I fear he is being hung out to dry by having to play every single game in the absence of a suitable replacement being identified and, more importantly, recruited.
Walters – A lot of people moan and groan at the very thought of Walters being involved in the first team but there are also plenty of people who see what he brings to the side. Jon is happy being on the bench, he will always give 110% and he always does exactly as he is told, all of these things are important, they are also everything Tuncay wasn’t. Jon has not let us down in any games so far, in fact he has impressed many who were surprised at just how good a finisher he was if anything. He had a good game for me on Saturday, despite being put out on the left wing, he worked hard to protect his full back, got forward well to join up with the attacks almost as a third striker and was always available and showing for the ball. Whilst I would prefer the likes of Matty on the pitch, Jon will always step in and do a job and that’s why he is important to Stoke City.
Jones – Another I have lambasted on here and another who put in a more fitting performance for one of his ability. Against Birmingham we saw the Jones who harries, who goes looking for the ball, who jumps towards it in the air,not simply wait for it to arrive, we have missed this Jones. This was Kenwyne’s best game in some time for us and I think that it was a mixture of him being due one and our change in attacking emphasis as he was suddenly given options in and around himself, add to this the balls tending to go into his chest and not 3 feet above him and we have a much better performance from our record signing.
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