It was a backs to the wall effort from the Potters as they survived a second half onslaught from a frustrated Liverpool side in a performance that typified the team's unity, teamwork, organisation and discipline.
We made a bright enough start and got in and around Liverpool’s final third but aside from the penalty didn’t really have that much of a cutting edge. Whilst this was a great result, there is still much room for improvement and as ever I’ve always got something to moan about, the main talking points for me are as follows;
The Penalty Decisions
I think the referee got all three calls spot on, Walters was a stonewall penalty, Carragher got the wrong side and as he peddled backwards, grabbed and dragged Walters with him. Delap’s was perhaps the most contentious, but to give a handball the ref has to be sure the player moved his hand towards the ball and whilst Rory’s arms weren’t tied to his body, he knew nothing about it. The third decision was also correct, Upson slid in to block the cross from Suarez and he did exactly that as the ball hit his body before rebounding onto his arm, again, no Penalty.
There were a few changes in personnel, Upson came in for the injured Woodgate, Delap came in for Whelan and Crouch replaced Jones up front alongside the industrious Walters. I know we have kept a good number of clean sheets but I’m still concerned at the sight of Huth at right back, especially when we had the perfect opportunity to bring him back into the middle, but on a day where we climbed up to the heady heights of fourth place, I feel almost guilty complaining about the setup – I did say ‘almost’
I’m really disappointed that our player of the season remains out on the right and after Saturday it appears he is now our fourth choice centre back which is frankly ludicrous. Yes, we kept another clean sheet, but since Huth’s return to the full back position we have only won games in this competition by one goal. Whilst the Berlin Wall’s presence at the back gives us an obvious defensive advantage, it also nullifies our attacking intent down the right as well as adversely affecting the overall balance of the side.
I’m fully aware of Wilko’s limitations but as I’ve said before, his agility and eagerness to support Pennant gives the latter player more confidence when he goes forward and as a result the whole team pushes up the pitch nicely. With this territorial advantage comes chances and goals, last season we saw the same thing and after Christmas when Pulis changed it we started scoring more freely and the team as a whole looked much better for the inclusion of a more natural right back.
Aside from the obvious impact Huth being there has on the balance and attacking intent of the team, if nothing else we have broken up an excellent partnership and annoyed one of our best players in the process – I fear if this continues we will see an increasingly frustrated player of the season and if it upset him enough to want to leave it would be nothing short of a disaster.
I feel like I’m writing this every week, both the wingers once again looked out of sorts and I’m starting to wonder if it is as much to do with the make shift full backs behind them as their own injuries and apparent dips in form. I’ve eluded to as much above, certainly when Wilko features he lends more support to Pennant who can turn back to him and lay the ball off, Huth though stays further back and so doesn’t afford him that option and it’s definitely hampering our attacking threat down that side.
It might simply be the case that Pulis wants a better look at the new boys and also to see how Shotton plays in the League Cup should he feature, if he can perform well against the likes of Bale next week the argument for his continued inclusion would certainly be stepped up a notch. I just hope Pulis hasn’t made a mistake by leaving Woody out of the Europa League squad as bringing Huth back into the middle would mean he would only have domestic cup competition to look forward to and I don’t think player or manager will be happy with him not seeing much action if he is fit.
The Middle and Palacios
Whitehead had one of his best games in the middle for us and led by example when it came to closing down the opposition in the final third, the sight of three or four red and white shirts harrying Liverpool’s full backs was a joy to see and it didn’t escape the notice of Gary Neville who labelled us as the ‘Ultimate defensive unit’ waxing lyrical about our organisation and work ethic. It was a great effort from the two in the middle though my one complaint is that for all the good work they do to get the ball, they seem to give it away just as frequently which must be terribly frustrating on the pitch, I know it is in the stands! Pulis seemed to agree and his post match comments echoed that sentiment, though I thought to myself it was as much a message to Crouch saying ‘you won’t be that isolated all the time’ when in truth, that striking role often is, and that’s exactly what I wrote about last week.
I was very excited to see how Palacios would get on, it was only a matter of time before we saw him in the second half as Delap began to tire and feel the effects of his recent injury. My first impression was that he looked a little overweight but I’ve not seen him up close and personal before so I sat back and watched with eager anticipation. I think it was perhaps a little harsh of Pulis to bring him into the fray as we struggled to cope with the onslaught of the last half an hour or so and Palacios seemed a bit lost as instead of dropping back into shape he seemed to occupy a space all by himself watching the game happen around him. Whilst Whelan would have been ‘tired’ from his midweek games, he surely would have been a better bet to come in and help see out the win, knowing exactly where he needs to be and what is expected of him. Palacios will be a great player, but he just needs a bit more time with the team to better understand the unique way in which we set up.
Pulis finally got his man and the big fella pulled on the red and white of Stoke for the first time to make his debut following his record breaking move from Spurs. I was very keen to see how he would do and like the rest of the team, his start was encouraging, the midfield pushed up around him well and he played the role of link man as good as any with some deft touches and intelligent vision, especially on our right hand side with Pennant (see below). However, as the game wore on my worst fears were confirmed as we became increasingly defensive and Crouch increasingly isolated. I do have to say though, even when we were being hit on the break by the excellent Suarez and co. in that first half we continued to try and keep up the pitch and I said at half time that we needed to be careful with the space we left behind for the second half.
It looks like Pulis had the same thought and as such the whole side dropped back towards our goal to remedy that. As I said above, I was heartened to hear Pulis’ post match comments on us keeping the ball and being able to support Crouch better, there was definitely a concerted effort to do that, but the often wayward passing of the middle two and the lack of a supporting full back made this task all the more difficult. I’m keen to see how Pulis sets the team up from front to back over the next few weeks, I’m not sure we can properly judge things yet given how threadbare the squad has been and with the fixtures we have started with. The real test for me will be the Fulham and Newcastle games in October where we will be able to loosen the shackles a bit more, will Pulis use a real full back for those games, will he get the team on the front foot and in the opposition half from the off? I guess we’ll have to wait and see, in the meantime we have a number of tough European games to get through as well as some tricky away games, one after each away trip in Europe in fact - thanks for that!
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Great write up. Huge TP fan, but not happy how he has handled Huth. I would not be shocked to see Huth leave in January. How Upson gets a start in the middle over Huth is shocking. Upson played well, but he is older. With Huth & Ryan we had a great pairing that could have played together for years.
Looks like that will not be the case
Editor Comment - Hopefully he will have his lighhtbulb moment sooner rather than later, he often does. Upson and Woody are good but they should be coming in for Europe and Cups really, which as I say is an issue with Woody being left out of the Euro squad
Posted by David B on 09/14/2011
All well and good when you have Clattenberg on your side!
Editor Comment - I thought he was good for both sides. Skrtel could have been penalised twice for wrestling Shawcross and Adam should have been booked much sooner than he was meaning he could have seen red.
Posted by Mike on 09/14/2011
The whole "ball to hand" thing seems silly to me, it should more accurately be "were his hands close enough to his body as an attempt to avoid it, and did it greatly affect the direction of the ball/motion of play". For example, a defender is hanging on the line with his arms stretched out horizontally, a shot flies and hits his outstretched arms. Obviously that's a penalty, but it's not like he swung his hand to hit the ball as in "hand to ball", the ball just hit his arm. that one seemed a clear penalty to me. the one for Stoke and the Suarez ones were iffy with that.
Editor Comment - It's very hard in real time, but you can see blatant hands moving to balls, normally where the player is wrong footed and leans towards it, Terry does it all the time. Rory was jumping sideways, that's where your hands normally go, same with Upson who was going to ground. Neither moved their hands towards the ball. That's not to say I haven't seen them given, but to me, no penalty(s)
Posted by sk on 09/15/2011
someone pls tell TP that Huth is best in the centre of defence; from which position (as centre backs do) he can move up to head in goals during corners like he did last season when he was top scorer with 8 goals at one stage.
remember in his first season he was tried out as full back but he did not do as well.
Tony Pulis PLEASE NOTE!
Editor Comment - You know I agree! Pulis normally has a moment of clarity around Christmas, hopefully the balance of seeing Shotton there might accelrate that...
Posted by Harry on 09/18/2011
I guess u r a bit blinded by your passion.no way was Walters penalty stonewall ,while Liverpool should had got one themselves.why stoke won was more because of poor finishing by the reds
Editor Comment - How many clear cut chances did you actually have? Why not praise a good defensive performance?
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James Whittaker is a football writer and ardent Stoke fan. Having moved to Leeds as a youngster his father refused to take him to his local Championship winning side and instead insisted he chose the Third Division team of his forefathers, Stoke City. Since then there has been no looking back and having been brought up on a diet of Dave Rowson, Kyle Lightbourne and John Gayle, is now embracing the dizzy heights of the top flight for the first time in his life. Fiercely loyal, though always welcoming sensible chat and debate, you can find him on Twitter @ESPN_Stoke