It’s not a game I was overly hopeful of getting anything from though I had heard Pulis say in the week that we’d only progress if we had a go at them so was hoping to see both wingers feature. Alas, when the teamsheet arrived it was Shotton who was chosen over Pennant (things must be bad for Pulis not to select a player against his former club) who would go on to have a poor game which only fuelled the fire of Pennant’s continued exclusion from proceedings. Shotton is not the answer, unless the question is “Which right back is Pulis hanging out to dry on the wing because of a personal feud with Pennant and the need for a long throw in the absence of Delap?”.
We made a very bright start and to everyone’s amazement were spraying the ball near and far, the centre backs even passing the ball to their midfielders!? Indeed Shotton found himself in some really useful areas but this only served to illustrate how he is as close to being a Premier League winger as I am and anyone watching other than the capped one would pick Pennant over him in a heartbeat. We failed to make that early pressure count and an initially energetic looking Matty went hiding as soon as he was kicked up in the air after only a few minutes – the wings were virtually nullified before most had taken their seats. Many will point to the fact that Pennant was less than impressive when he came on, of course he was, he was doubled up on immediately and has about 20 mins every week to change a game with two static and knackered strikers in front of him, it’s as mind boggling as it is frustrating.
The defence on the other hand, and indeed the two midfielders looked great, Shawcross and Huth were solid, Wilko overlapped well but without great distribution and Wilson didn’t embarrass himself either. Whelan and Whitehead once again showed that they are our best options there at the moment, and always look better if they are given that extra licence to consider and pick a pass on the front foot, in fact it was Deano’s perfect through ball to Walters which gave us one of our best chances all game, sadly a lack of real pace meant John rushed it and shanked wide, some might say it was more a lack of real quality, it was most likely a bit of both.
Again we had an outing for Tony’s preferred two and whilst Crouch scored, it was from another set piece and both players did very little in terms of fashioning/finishing chances from open play, the lack of pace up top is frightening and this fan just can’t see how that is going to be rectified without getting rid of one of the current incumbents and let’s be honest, it won’t be Crouch. Given the big man’s price tag, high profile value it won’t be an option for Pulis and with his lack of pace, it’s another Duracell bunny in behind that we’ll therefore need and alarmingly Jones, Jerome and Fuller are all unable to play that role meaning either the manager changes his lifelong philosophy or we need an entire new front line to accommodate a player the wrong side of 30 in a system about the same age.
We were desperate for that pace throughout but particularly in the second half and after Pennant came on we saw Jerome warming up, excellent, both wingers on and some pace up top, but no, it was Etherington who came off as Pulis continued with his ‘two wingers are a luxury’ mantra. Still, we had one more sub to make, we’ve got Palacios, we’ve got Jones, both could have an impact ….and then Delap came on.
This game typified Pulis for me, we saw;
- Players out of position
- Stubborn selections fuelled by personal issues
- Players given freedom but then resorting to hoofing again (this is almost the worst as we get a glimpse of something we all want and confirmation that we CAN do it)
- Favourites starting no matter what
- £20m of talent to change the game on the bench and we bring on Delap with 10 mins to go
It’s been an amazing season in many ways and is a great time to be a Stoke fan but these issues aren’t showing any signs of going away and sooner or later the “Look where we’ve come from” gang need to open their eyes and start recognising that, and that includes you Mr Pulis.
Vis Unita Fortior