The Huth is on fire...
Despite Pulis naming an unchanged side from our last league game and every starting player having stayed in the country midweek instead of playing ‘guess the continent’ with the Europa League team, we made a slow start. In fact, we rightly went a goal down inside 20 minutes owing to the opposition once again targeting the consistently abysmal Woodgate, but once the one man liability was removed from proceedings the team were able to get a foothold and go on to record a memorable win at our near rivals.
The talking points for me were as follows;
Woodgate – In the words of The Hives, ‘I hate to say I told you so’ (our former players’ entrance theme) as the remainder of the Woodgate sympathisers started to come round to the thinking of those who have been championing Woody’s omission for months. Just when you thought he couldn’t get any worse he put in, I would say, the worst defensive performance I’ve ever seen from a Stoke defender under Pulis and in fact it was so bad, his biggest fan saw fit to put him out of his misery and withdraw him after some eighteen minutes.
Those who had previously seen fit to lambast me on Twitter for my vendetta against Woody were suddenly very quiet as he put in a ‘performance’ in defence that a half tanked 18 stone fan would be ashamed of. Some still maintain that he played well against Spurs and regular readers will know I set the record straight on that right away, and it was a case of déjà vu as he hacked Jarvis down, much like he did Lennon the week before, in an almost identical area of the pitch earning a yellow card in less than ten minutes. It was so painful to watch and once Jarvis skipped past him again, instead of leaving him to be picked up by the TWO covering players, he decided to lunge in, knowing full well he was never going to win the ball. Those aren’t the actions of a centre half playing out of position, those are the actions of a player whose legs are past it and seemingly whose football brain isn’t far behind, something you often expect to counteract any physical decline in older players.
I have never seen one defender so openly targeted or indeed be substituted so early on, certainly not in a Pulis side and that will have hurt Pulis, a man so proud of his record of a strong defence, it was embarrassing, and he knew it. I can only hope and pray that we never see Woody anywhere near the pitch again, he might well be influential in the dressing room and that’s all well and good, we just need to make sure that’s exactly where he stays when the others leave to play a game.
Etherington – I cross my fingers before every game hoping that Matty’s return to form in a previous game wasn’t a flash in the pan and that he can turn in another good performance and get that consistency from last season back and it looks like that’s exactly what he is doing. There aren’t many better sights in football than a winger flying at a full back and Matty was in full flow once more giving Wolves all kind of problems and whilst not all of his deliveries were perfect, they are getting better and his cross for Crouch’s goal was an absolute peach. The fact that he could have scored twice too shows that he is starting to get his confidence back and get in positions where he will need to take responsibility and it’s come just at the right time. My Man of the Match.
Pennant – It was perhaps an earlier introduction than Pennant had anticipated as he replaced the hapless Woodgate after eighteen minutes but he showed no signs of tiredness from his European exertions as he ran Matty every inch of the way in terms of his impact on the game. I think it’s fair to say there has been a falling out of some sorts given his recent exclusion from the team but his performance, much like in the Spurs game, was faultless as he worked tirelessly to support both the attack and an inexperienced Shotton.
Crouch – Another great game for the big man up top who, as I suggested last week, is now starting to put himself about a lot more and as a result is starting to win aerial battles he wouldn’t have done in August/September. The header he scored was not only brave but perfectly executed and much harder than it looked for a man his size putting his head in where a post and boot were looming. He is turning into the signing we all hoped he would be, though scared he couldn’t be – keep up the good work Pete!
So onto the busy Christmas period and a daunting trip away to the Etihad Stadium to face current League leaders Manchester City. I don’t think I’m alone in expecting us to put out a weaker side as we seek to target the trio of winnable ties after Christmas against Villa, Wigan and Blackburn and I’m happy with that to be perfectly honest especially as two of those are at home. So here’s to a nice points return over the festive period to take us over the 30 point barrier and ever closer to that magical 40 point mark which would be a much better present than the woolly jumper you will muster a fake grin for next week…
Vis Unita Fortior