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I can’t complain too much, this was always going to be the hardest game of the group and it was a bonus to not only get a vital point, but also to make the trip in September and not later in the Winter. When you add into the equation the fact that we made eight changes as well as adopting an entirely unfamiliar formation, the result starts to look even more impressive.
As always there is plenty to talk about so let’s have a look at how we set up and also how the new boys got on;
When I saw the team I couldn’t for the life of me even start to predict what side Pulis would play. Given the personnel I couldn’t see Pulis playing Palacios on the wing so it would have to be three at the back with Wilko and Shotton as wing backs, but that would mean Wilko as left wing back?! That’s exactly what happened and the team, for the first half anyway, looked to be really struggling with the new shape. Time and again the wing backs would tuck in and be sat on the centre back’s toes leaving a narrow three in midfield for Kiev to go around the sides – it was painful. Add to that the customary booking in 15 mins for Diao and the outlook was far from rosy as I ranted to anyone who would listen at half time.
Thankfully the players looked more comfortable in the second half and the wing backs sat further up the pitch, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one chuckling to myself as Wilko picked up the ball on the left only for Kiev to double up on him and stand off expecting some kind of Cruyff turn. Alas, he would mostly put his head down and charge through as best he can, there was one instance where he beat two players and played a lovely ball down the line for Jones, but there were half a dozen other moments when he didn’t. Joking aside, I was really proud of Wilko who gave everything he had in what was a really unfamiliar role, the lad simply never lets us down.
I wanted to make special mention of Ryan who I think did a good job down the right and gave us much better balance and agility, not that I’ve been banging on about it for the last few weeks or anything. I thought he played very well, made some good tackles and some surging runs, including a great one two with Jones where he set up the goal, a great move and not the first time he’s done it this season either. Whilst I was encouraged by his performance it is still obvious that he is a raw talent that needs a bit of work, he was often caught out of position and also on occasion found himself too tight and turned by the attacker. These are things that can be worked on though, and at his age and with the strengths he has, the future looks good for him, I just hope he gets the chance to get more experience under his belt in all competitions this season, especially in the league which is where we need a natural right back most.
After the Liverpool game where Wilson struggled to settle in from the bench I was keen to see how he did in the starting XI. What a game he had, on the night he was my Man Of The Match, sitting menacingly in the middle, crouched and ready to pounce like a lion on it’s prey. He broke up the play brilliantly and used the ball well, often playing it without looking up such was his awareness. We were also treated to wide range of passing as he slid the attackers through with some lovely balls around the side of the defence. With time, once he is more used to his team mates and more importantly once he is ‘Stoke fit’, we could have the answer to our midfield prayers, I’m truly excited at the prospect of seeing more of him.
Much like Palacios, I’ve also been looking forward to seeing how Jerome would get on, knowing his raw ingredients of height, pace and power would fit right into our game. He had a bit of a quiet first half but his energy and pace were vital in the channels and his leap and strength is almost Kenwyne like (on a good day) I personally think we have signed another Walters and his goal was just reward for an impressive showing, his movement intelligent and his finish sublime and brave, to have the confidence to shoot into the roof of the net with our only shot on target to that point on your club and European debut… very impressed.
So we get the first game out of the way in a very difficult ten days where we will face four teams in total across three competitions, next up is a stuttering Sunderland side whose Manager is under intense pressure from the Stadium of Light faithful. Let’s regroup, get the rested players back in and go there to take advantage of the situation, and if he thinks the Sunderland fans are on his back, wait until he hears our song for Kenwyne…
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