The latter point has led to a bit of a delay in various stories so apologies to my regular readers, but I’m back now to look back on a memorable week for the Potters starting with our final qualifying match of the Europa League.
The momentum and advantage was with us following our impressive away win over in Switzerland and despite fielding a wafer thin and heavily depleted team the Britannia faithful were cautiously optimistic that we could progress, though as ever cautiously pessimistic that an away goal for Thun would change everything. Thankfully the team showed no signs of complacency and despite Thun seeing the best of the first quarter of an hour or so it was Stoke who stole the initiative through home debutant Upson who opened the scoring with an excellent header from a pinpoint Pennant delivery. Then followed a further two goals from Jones and Whelan in a seemingly whirlwind fifteen minutes as we cruised into the half time break with a comfortable aggregate lead, before coming back out and finishing the game 4-1.
I appreciate that Thun are hardly Barcelona but they had previously knocked out Palermo so are hardly League 2 standard either, which made our quite brilliant performance all the more pleasing. Everything looked good, the defence was higher up the pitch, the midfield closer to the attack picking up the ball off knock downs, the full backs overlapping – this was the purest, most acceptable version of Pulis ball we’re likely to see and everyone to a man loved it. In our previous game against Norwich we got over 50% possession for the first time since our return to the top flight and again we saw the same here, I’m hoping this represents a minor shift if nothing else in our attempts to retain possession, we’ll have to see.
Home debut goal...
© Getty Images
Europa League Draw
I’ve quite enjoyed the routine of logging on to UEFA’s site to watch the live streaming of the Europa League Draw, and after what seemed like the presenter introducing every member of his extended family, the draw finally got underway. The groups started to take shape nicely and I think, like most fans, I had decided which one I fancied, more on where I could persuade Mrs W to go for a long weekend as opposed to who we would have the best chance against. I was therefore pretty nonplussed at our eventual group;
FC Dynamo Kyiv (UKR)
Beşiktaş JK (TUR)
Stoke City FC (ENG)
Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC (ISR)
From a football point of view however, the group represents an excellent opportunity to progress to the knockout phase and if nothing else the club will be able to get some nice city breaks or luggage sets with all the airmiles.
So we come to our biannual points gimme at the Hawthorns, I’ll be honest, I thought this might be the time the hoodoo was finally lifted with our squad being stretched so severely. It wasn’t a great game and the free flowing play we saw at the Britannia was replaced with a disjointed game, by both sides to be fair. Our options from the bench again were poor, but Ryan Shotton was the hero once more as he came on to liven up our weary side and it was in the last minute of normal time where he pounced on a back pass that Foster wasn’t entirely comfortable with and nipped it away from the one time Stoke keeper to slot home the easiest goal he’ll ever score, cue delirium – we ALWAYS beat West Brom we sang, and we were right.
© Getty Images
I’ve harped on for a while now about what we have needed so I entered the last day in some fear that we couldn’t possibly get the minimum five signings I felt we needed and that was indeed the case as we signed only three with no sign of a full back or more worryingly any out and out wing cover. I shouldn’t be too harsh because the signings we did make have signalled a level of intent that has made the footballing world stand up once again and take note but I still have concerns over our lack of options on the wing and also the signing of Crouch as our headline striker…
Peter Crouch – I do rate Crouch, I think he’s an excellent player, looks deceptively clumsy but is a player with a great touch and has the ability to score great goals. Whilst goals aren’t necessarily his strong point, he has shown in his career that once he hits the goal trail he hits it good and proper, at Liverpool he didn’t score for four months and when he did he scored 22 in the 66 games after that. In the Champions League last year he thrived on the opportunity of being selected and scored seven in ten games, for England 18 in 17 games, you get my drift. It's also worth noting that he provides his fair share of assists, in fact, in the last three seasons Peter has provided more assists than the much more publically lauded Carlos Tevez. We all know Pulis likes to breed confidence in players, especially those who thrive on it so on paper at least it looks like a great move, I’m very grateful we have Pulis in this respect and given that both he and the Chairman have gone on record to say that Crouch would be their dream signing and with all the money Sir Peter has put in, who are we to deny them their dream?
My concerns are more specifically with how he will fit into our system with the current personnel we have. We all know how our strikers set up, typically one withdrawn who chases down everyone and drops into midfield and one who stays up top to finish the chances, the former often only gets glory if he creates it for himself, the latter often benefitting more from others in open play. With our previous record signing Jones finally finding some form of his own and playing well in that more advanced role, I worry that Pulis won’t be able to resist the temptation to play the two together, much like he did when Carew was here. That would give us a big problem, the system is there because our midfield sits deep and our forward line is often isolated. We’ve tried to play Jones in the withdrawn role unsuccessfully before and I can’t see an even less athletic player in Crouch doing it.
© The Sentinel
This may not be as big an issue if we play more like we did in the Thun game, but my experience to date suggests that we see much less adventurous play in the Premier League, though I’m hoping the midfield will help remedy that with the introduction of…
Wilson Palacios – Now this is the signing I am most excited about! Since we’ve been in the Premier League, we’ve seen strikers and defenders come and go yet we start our fourth year here with the same middle two we had in the Championship. Year after year passed with no discernable improvement in this area, until now, until the signing of the impressive Palacios. Nicknamed ‘The Sergeant’, Wilson had a meteoric rise in prominence adding £11m to his value in as many months with a series of impressive performances for Wigan and was a real driving force in Spurs’ Champions League qualification. It seems both he and Crouch fell foul of trying to accommodate the maverick Van Der Vaart and as such Wilson fell down the pecking order in North London.
It’s a huge relief to finally see some real quality in this area and I’m salivating at the thought of having a genuine midfield general (or Sergeant) running the show and driving the team forward. As I’ve said above, the introduction of Wilson here could well aid the shape as a whole and give the strikers more support than they have seen from the previous incumbents of this position. If this was the case then Crouch would be able to concentrate on what comes to him naturally rather than constantly winning the ball on the halfway line and running up to meet the resulting cross himself, losing a lung en route.
Cameron Jerome - How we need pace and Cameron has it to burn, a long time Pulis target who always seems to score against us. Another not blessed with huge goal scoring ability but his first season in the Premier League when he had a partner up front saw him score 11 goals which I think is a reasonable return to expect from the ex Cardiff and Birmingham man this term. It’s clear to see why Pulis likes him, he’s big, strong, athletic, pacey, very direct and all at a good age too, Jerome has also been used in the past on the wing so offers us an option there should we need it, but that in turn would encourage the Crouch/Jones relationship I warned of!
When all is said, it’s been a great week to be a Stokie and we’ve got a cracker of a game to look forward to against Liverpool where we'll hopefully get a good glimpse of the new boys and no matter what my nagging voices say I'll be behind each and every one of them every step along the way.
Vis Unita Fortior
Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @ESPN_Stoke for all the latest Stoke City news...
Follow ESPNsoccernet's Football Correspondents on Twitter