In a game that could well have been decided by one of Chelsea’s many dives, Stoke finally got the rub of the green with Mark Halsey not falling for the increasingly desperate theatrics of the men in blue to hang on for what was an amazing result given the injuries and threadbare bench.
The main talking points are as follows;
The team once again picked itself though we did field a number players carrying injuries, the clear lack of depth a huge issue for us at the moment as we were forced to bring on the likes of Pugh and Shotton, the latter replacing Kenwyne up front once again. Huth continues to be shoved out to fullback and despite saying he doesn’t like playing there as much as in the middle, he also said that he would do whatever is needed for the team. On paper at least it seems to be a good decision as the defensive unit made it three clean sheets in three games, though I suspect the Thun game might see Woodgate rested and hopefully the big German reinstated into the middle.
Fitness and Injuries
Apart from the fact we’ve got a treatment room representing the Boothen end toilet queue, those who we are able to get onto the pitch still don’t look as fit as they should be, I know Pennant is carrying an injury but he has looked leggy in the 3 games we have played so far and Walters seems to be dragging a tire with him when he runs, and he wasn’t that quick to start with. It may well be the case that none of these players would be playing if we had the strength in depth to allow them to rest their various strains and ailments or simply the fact that pre-season was rushed for our early start in Europe.
© The Sentinel
Man of the Match. A great game from our keeper who brilliantly commanded his area all afternoon and in the second half pulled off a number of world class saves to protect our point, none better than the stretch to deny Anelka. It was such a shame that we weren’t able to build on his excellent work and push for a win, sadly our lack of options off the bench meant that as soon as Matty got injured, what we had, we held. I hope Asmir realises the club’s ambition matches his own and he sees us as a long term partner, I truly believe he has the ability and potential to write himself into the club’s goalkeeping folklore and what better company to be in than alongside Banks and Shilton.
We saw how much we missed Rory in the away leg in Split and we saw it again against Chelsea, his defensive contribution and constant covering at the back was sorely missed after he went off and the absence of his throw is really an issue, especially with us struggling with injuries where they are often the only chance of getting a decent amount of bodies into the final third. Rory continues to be an important part of this unit and whilst his legs may not carry him the full ninety minutes, his presence and role continue to be crucial even if we manage to bring one or two in who play in the middle. Throw wise, there was a pleasant reminder that Shotton has an excellent delivery on him, though this excitement was somewhat overcome by the realisation that he was the striker we’d brought on to get on the end of them.
This for me was one of Marc’s worst games for us and the hope that we had found a capable full back is all but gone after a nervous performance where he was bereft of any positional sense, tackling or passing ability. Pace has always been a concern but his apparent strength in these other areas helped compensate for that, but against Chelsea we saw the Wilson we tried in midfield as he shied away from tackles and took an age to pick a pass, I like to think the club worked on his awareness in the Summer, I’m sure they’ve got one of those ‘Whac a Mole’ games at Alton Towers which would surely help?
© The Sentinel
This is something that really gets my goat, and whilst Mark Halsey handled Chelsea’s various appeals well, I still feel there should be some punishment for trying to gain an advantage through deception. It’s always the same against any club in the top flight but mainly the top four. They get frustrated at missing their long shots, can’t get in behind us, lose the headers when we push them wide so they try and walk through the middle and then throw themselves to the floor like an extra from Platoon. I like to think that some honesty still exists in the game and whilst I understand that sometimes players make the most of genuine contact, actively encouraging it is painful to watch and is a real cancer of the game. I remember an initiative a couple of seasons ago whereby players would be booked if they went down easily, a few bookings followed but the instances of on the pitch retribution disappeared quicker than Fabregas on a plane to Spain. I think we need to bring back this rule and even better, enforce it retrospectively if the matter is not dealt with at the time. Would Lampard be so quick to dive again if the last time he did not only had he failed to get a penalty but also received a ban? I don’t think he would…
© Ian Hodgson
The window remains open and yet the games come thick and fast with nothing to suggest any meaningful signings are imminent. Whilst I appreciate that Pulis does his business in the last few days of the season, we could be out of Europe, bottom of the table and without key players who we have lost through their risky inclusion. The club have been making the right noises and indeed Pulis has gone on record to suggest we need two midfielders, two strikers and a winger, which is great news, but they still aren’t here and with our European and domestic travels a plenty in the next couple of weeks, added to our unique gift of taking an age to complete a deal, the club will really be up against it in these next 14 days or so. I’m led to believe that a couple of deals could be done with Spurs that depend on Redknapp getting players in himself, not only is that a risky tactic in itself, it becomes even more troublesome when you have the master of the transfer window seemingly with your unmentionables in his hands dictating the window as he so often ends up doing.
So onto the next exciting chapter of our European adventure and a trip to Switzerland. As it stands I imagine Winnie the kit lady is polishing her boots at the thought of her debut such is the paucity of available senior pros. With that in mind, I’d love to see the likes of Cuvelier and especially Marshall be considered, it’s a great opportunity to get them involved in what will be a difficult and tiring match on an artificial surface, their young legs will have more in them than some of our older ones who are nursing minor knocks. Whether that will happen though remains to be seen, based on previous experience, I’d suggest not, though whoever plays will, as ever, get my full support.
Vis Unita Fortior
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