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Posted by James Whittaker on 11/02/2011

On the night of Haloween you could have picked from any number of timely cliches, it certainly wasn't a thriller but it was every inch the horror show that many saw coming.

Horror Show... ©PA

Questions continue to be raised on a whole host of subjects but when you boil it down we arrive back to the theme of a former piece of mine, transfers and tactics and for that there is one man who is at fault and that’s the manager.

Since we arrived into the promised land we have spent over £70m yet once again, at full time we finished the match with a centre back at right back, a right back at left back and our best striker on the wing. The failures in the transfer market to buy the players in the positions we need simply can’t be ignored. On top of the issues of playing square pegs in round holes we have the other problem of the Manager getting all doe eyed at the concept of a ‘name’, enter Messrs Crouch and Woodgate.

I’ve not seen a central defender as poor at the Britannia in years, constantly caught the wrong side with no pace to recover, clumsy in tackles and entirely reluctant to head a ball, ladies and gentleman, this is the player that has relegated our player of the season to the bench. Sadly, last night seemed to put the writing on the wall in that respect as the injury to Shawcross saw the introduction of Upson, and not Huth, seemingly the ‘one defender, one ball player’ rhetoric of the manager in playing down the German’s sudden fall from favour was just lip service to a bigger issue with the player.

The defence as a whole has suffered, one thing we always had, ever since we came up, was a solid defence and you’d struggle to find a better partnership in the middle than Huth and Shawcross. Last season it was March before we conceded three goals in a league match, this season in a side without Huth we have done so on three occasions in ten games which is as good an illustration as you need that breaking up the Huth/Shawcross pairing was a huge, huge mistake.

New signings are supposed to improve the team... ©Graham Chadwick

Pulis has form for continuing with poor decisions in brazen defiance to the masses, being too stubborn to change things despite the continued failure by doing so. We saw it with Huth at right back and Collins at left back last season, it was around the winter when he finally changed things around for the better and whilst we have seen this with Wilko coming back in at right back this season, we are still left with the undroppable Woodgate in the middle, will Pulis have the stones to drop him though having seen how poor he is playing in one of his specialist areas, he’s played for Real Madrid don’t you know? At least we have the glimmer of hope that with Wilson’s timely injury we’ll see Higgy come back into the reckoning, it’s been a long time coming as Marc has been one of our poorest performers this season as the manager once again failed to address the left back problem stretching back to the days of the Championship.

So we know what we need to do with the back line to sort it, how about the midfield? Well, we bought Palacios who has shown in glimpses that he would be great alongside a Whelan/Delap but it seems he still isn’t 100% fit despite being on the bench the last few games yet not getting any reserve team action? The frustration of his continued omission coupled with the decision not to buy any wing cover means the midfield is far from perfect but we are where we are and unlike the defence, the answer is not immediately available to us.

Onto the attack where we see the ever industrious Walters lining up alongside Crouch who once more did very little in the red and white. I might be doing him a bit of a disservice as he did show some very clever touches but he is in no way suited to the simplest version of pulisball that the manager has seen fit to revert to of late. Ironically, the best display this season for me was the Man United game where we should have won and played with the exact same line up as last night! Only this time the midfield passed and moved, and players got in and around Crouch, he looked much better when we played to his strengths. That performance seemed to be a one off though and you almost get the feeling that the Manager gave the players a bit more attacking licence as he sometimes does against top sides at home and in the Cups whereas for the past few weeks we have seen a regression back to some of the most painful tactics we all know and hate.

I was actually embarrassed last night as we just launched the ball in the general direction of Crouch who has the physical presence of someone a third of his height, for him to not attack it, fail to jump altogether, or just get nowhere near it only for it to come straight back to the defence. If it wasn’t that it was giving the wingers the ball in our defensive third then just stopping to watch them fail to beat four players on the halfway line with no support, it was just painful to watch and knowing how well we can play, even with these players, it was just utterly bewildering.

Pulis needs to make his mind up, he either needs to trust his players to attack with a bit of flair like we did against Man Utd, which will bring out the best in his star signing or revert to type in which case he needs to recall Jones who can chase the randomly launched balls from the back and actually attack the 40 headers a game he’s expected to challenge for. If Pulis insists on going back to basic percentage football, playing for territory and throws then you use the most appropriate personnel. To me it looks like he now has the striker he wants but he is too scared to use him properly and is so reluctant to change his system, which Crouch will ultimately fail like many others before him.

The most alarming thing now though, is that these decisions have started to affect our home form and all those who in the past few weeks have criticised me, defending the manager’s decisions away from home, might actually now start to realise that things needs to change and quickly.

Vis Unita Fortior

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Posted by Jordan Tuckler on 11/02/2011

Couldn't agree more, monday night's game was one of our worst performances this season (if no the worst) and we need to figure out an ideal way to field the team effectively so that we are able to compete at a decent level for both the premier league and europa league. We need to be able to use the entire squad i believe to avoid over-use injuries to our star players such as shawcross, pennant and etherington so that we are able to at least threat every game we play in. We do have a number of players out on lone to the football league such as danny pugh, danny collins, matthew lund, ben marshall and more that we could bring back and introduce to the europa league so that our first team can focus on our targeted mid table finish in the premier league. But we must remember that this ain't doom'n'gloom times, we're still 11th in the table and top of our europa group and a very good manager and squad that i believe can and will prove again for a successful season.

Posted by Jackripper on 11/02/2011

Good article James. Obviously the media loves portraying SCFC as a long ball team, always trying to bully the opposition into submission. My mate who is a Stoke city fan would obviously beg to differ, but as Monday's match against newcastle demonstrated, I couldn't really disagree with what the media portrayed Stoke as. I just wanted to ask, what are your views on this type of football, and do you think you are unfairly portrayed by the media? Also, does it bother the fans that Tony Pulis is not the biggest fan of attacking midfielders or flair players in general, preferring to rely on grafters and physical players? Wish you well for the rest of the season mate. Except when you lot come to SJP!

JW - Thanks Jack. I think the media have been overly harsh since our return to the top flight, similarly they are now overly sycophantic following a big deadline day. I can't complain if they call us hoof ball after this game though, no-one can really! The frustration for the fans is we know we can play so much better with the players at our disposal.

Posted by Stoke_Oracle on 11/02/2011

Fair comments, although I think Crouch has done the job he came in to do. He gets the majority of headers to flick on, brings the ball down well and holds it up. Problem is the players around him are not making the most of the flick ons. Mainly cos there is only one player far enough up in the final third. Walters is'nt the right person to partner Crouch. Runs forever, but he's not quick enough. Crouch flicks his headers on almost straight every time, where does Walters stand??? to the side of him every time. Come on lads watch the videos and learn by your mistakes. Why the hell Huth isn't playing God and stubborn Pulis only knows!!

JW - I agree, Crouch is much improved with some pace and support around him, we saw Deano set him up last night by running beyond him, how often are the midfield allowed to do that in the League?!

Posted by chris mandley on 11/02/2011

Bang on my man ! woodgate is a complete liability he plays to far up field , not the pulis way ! which then forces huth ( when picked at the ridiculous position of right back ) to come inside to cover for this donkey , woodgate cant head the ball either , its time to revert to a tried and tested formation although the arrogance of the manager will prevail and we will be stuck with what we have because " Im right and its my team " and poor old wilson ( tuncay ) palacious must be wondering what he has to do to get a game in front of undropable Rory aghhhhhhh

JW - The Woodgate thing is a huge worry but it's TP's favourite role and even he must be sick of watching him get caught the wrong side and ducking out of challenges? As for Palacios, it was good to see him feature in Europe, though he didn't look too fit, but games get fitness so he needs to feature more, even in the ressies.

Posted by BITWx on 11/02/2011

My stoke starting XI.... Begovic, Wilkingson, Huth, Shawcross, Higginbotham, Pennant, Whelan, Palacios, Etherington, Walters, Jones. Crouch is the biggest waste of money stoke have ever spent, even worse then Dave kitson, could crouch have ever scored from the position Jones did in the game against Liverpool in the cup? No chance

JW - It's really interesting, Crouch is a good playerin the right system and with players around him but I agree, I look at the goals KJ scores and Crouch would never attack the ball as hard

Posted by Denison92 on 11/03/2011

Delap's offensive play has at times been quite offensive. If I have to watch him sail a play 25 feet over the goal again, I think I am going to scream. If we were going to spend all that money, why not pick up a young, blue-chip midfielder>

JW - The hope is that he phased out, he still has a role, but only in the middle. I'd like to see a bit more of Arismendi personally who looked lively in Israel.

Posted by starbucks_sg on 11/06/2011

After the Bolton game, it is apparent the players are very tired. They cannot even string a couple of passes accurately. Neither can they even control the ball. Our foray in Europe will certainly cost us our Premiership status. Let us not kid ourselves we do not have the depth to play in Europe. Crouch is useless, so is Jerome. We have been losing away games at an alarming rate. And if a team like Bolton Wanderers sitting penultimate in the Premiership can thrash us, it is obvious something is wrong. We are becoming more like a joke. I have been a Stoke City supporter for 40 years and really I am starting to lose faith in this team. If we do not get our act right, you can be assured we will not be playing Premiership football next season.

JW - It's certainly worrying. I just hope that Pulis has been shamed into making the right decisions, especially in defence.

Posted by Jolly Potter on 11/07/2011

I can't wait for your analysis of the Bolton debacle. We can all Monday Quarterback as they say here in the USA but to be fair it's not rocket science to figure out the glaring deficiencies of this current Stoke set up. Woodgate and Upson have no pace - Huth completely misused - play him in midfield rather than full back if he can't curry favor with the Blind Pu-lis. Put Shotton at right back - and agreed on Higgy but how close is he to the form he had when he got injured ? He was colossal. Pennant and ethers are still not firing on full power - so clearly "back up" is needed - Wright-Phillips maybe was the option ? We will see if that was folly when he shows up with QPR - I fear the worst as down the years they have been a bogey team - or am I thinking of Crystal Palace ?

JW - Crystal Palace were a big bogey team for us! I'm not so sure about Shotton, whilst he is confident on the ball and quick he is very, very naive defensively so really needs to put some work in. As you say, hopefully Higgy will help bring back some organisation back there but it says it all when we are hurrying up a 32yr old centre back to come and play at left back :/

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James Whittaker 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

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