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Stoke City
Posted by James Whittaker on 03/27/2012

A team with nothing to play for and another fighting desperately for the title, from the outside it was difficult to see which was which as only one team seemed to want the result and they weren’t wearing blue.

Brilliant… ©PA

Sadly the aftermath hasn’t focussed on an heroic Stoke performance or one of the best goals to ever grace the top flight, instead it has been dominated by Mancini’s moans of rough tactics against his expensively assembled side. Elbows in the throat, ankle snapping tackles, kicking from behind when the decision goes against you, and that was just from Man City, who tellingly received more cautions than ‘dirty Stoke’. Mancini clearly demonstrating a lack of class as well as nerve with the title race counting down to a conclusion against their close neighbours who are clearly better versed in both respects.

There were many valid talking points after the game, I’ll try my best to summarise below;

Approach – Pulis’ perennial loosening of the shackles is as regular as the seasons themselves and sure enough, the last few games have seen us attempt to be more expansive with the cage door being left open ever so slightly. As I say every year, it’s plain for all to see the effect this has on the team and the fans alike, players like Whelan and Whitehead have looked so much better trusted with that greater level of freedom, the latter in particular has really shone. How long do we have to wait for Pulis to play this way from the start of a season and stick with it throughout?

Shawcross/Huth – Not that there was ever any doubt on my part, these two are phenomenal at the back for us and I’m struggling to think of any other pairing in the league I would swap them for. Shawcross in particular has shown a much greater level of composure and based on his performances over the past few months should be included in the squad for the Euro’s. He has more than coped with the Captaincy this season and has added valuable European experience to his CV too, whether or not that will be enough for the new national manager though remains to be seen.

The Midfield – As alluded to above, Whelan and Whitehead have made the ‘cage’ their own and have really enjoyed their freedom of late. I’m glad Whitehead has kept plugging away quietly as he has well and truly stuck two fingers up to a lot of fans for the stick he got earlier in the season. He has shown great pace and work rate alongside the lesser seen passing and crossing ability and has really enjoyed running beyond the strikers when given the opportunity. As for the accidental elbow, it was exactly that, an accident. I’m not sure how Mancini proposes players jump for a ball but arms do go up and it’s more about technique and timing, something Silva, perhaps not surprisingly, lacks physically.

Accidental… ©Getty

Watching replays of the incident you could clearly see Whitehead’s eyes were on the ball at all times and any contact was unfortunate, but football is a contact sport. Such was Silva’s anonymity throughout the break in play was perhaps a good opportunity to remind us all he was still on the pitch, the makeshift alice band helped too.

Wingers – I was happy to see Jerome get another chance given his recent exploits but it was sadly at the expense of the ever impressive Pennant and not the ever disappointing Etherington. Matty once again struggled to make any impact on the game and goes missing for large chunks at a time. Often he looks scared to receive the ball and run at his man and without that his impact is limited to tracking back and supporting the defence which, whilst he does this brilliantly, is not where we know his strengths lie. I’m also hoping that Pennant has more or less served his sentence in Pulis’ eyes, he never hides and always wants the ball and his composure on the ball is second to none in our squad, you simply can not fault his contribution or effort since his ridiculous exile.

Jerome – Cameron has more than deserved his second start in as many games and I was really looking forward to seeing him in action again but I have to say I was really disappointed. It’s not all his fault, Pulis is trying to shoehorn him into a system where the only place he’d excel in is taken by Crouch. He started on the right but seemed to be struggling positionally and so was moved up top but showed a lack of awareness and nouse to make supporting runs to help Crouch out. There were more than a couple of occasions when we found ourselves two on two/three with Crouch taking two markers out of the equation, I was screaming for Jerome to run into the channel to take advantage of the space but he stood static on each occasion and the moves broke down. I knew his day was over when he failed to close down after a flick on, threw his arms in the air and didn’t chase back, sure enough Pennant was being warmed up within minutes, it was the right decision to start him and I have to say it was the right decision to sub him off.

Crouch – My final observation is reserved for the scorer of quite possibly the best goal we have ever seen at the Britannia, let alone the goal of the season! I’m sure everyone has seen it plenty of times, the technique was like nothing I have seen, it was entirely calculated and exquisitely executed and the mental that followed along with a cheeky Poznan will be on the lips of many for generations to come.

Unbelievable… ©Getty

Pete generally played well and his link up play was brilliant at times, mainly because the midfield got around him but that said, his lack of pace and more importantly the lack of (usable) pace alongside him meant that this wonder strike was the only shot he had all afternoon. Regular readers will be well versed on my feelings in this area and if you take away the occasion, if you take away the wonder strike, we had another game where the front two failed to fashion any meaningful chances from open play and despite celebrating ‘that’ goal as much as the people around me, that problem has not gone away and much like I said last week, how Pulis manages that issue in the Summer will make for interesting viewing.

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Posted by Runci on 03/27/2012

The players are thugs like a lot of their supporters. They wouldbn't look out of place in a pub team sunday league

JW - So you couldn't beat a Sunday league team then?

Posted by Ronan Lee on 03/27/2012

"Mancini's moans"? Have you any quotes to back up this claim that he moaned? City did receive more cautions, bizarrely considering they had only 2/3 of the fouls Stoke had. Also when you consider Shawcross doesn't receive a yellow for pulling Balotelli back by the CHIN and Barry receives one for pulling a Stoke player back by the shoulder you begin to wonder what's up. City's second yellow was for petulance not for anything 'dirty'. As for Whitehead, the terminology you have used here "technique and timing" are adequate to describe what Whitehead lacked in the challenge, his challenge was reckless. By the way that was a bandage on Silva's head to stem the blood flow, it was very crass of the Stoke support to boo a player for receiving a cut to his head, regardless of your view of the incident.

JW - David Platt was the one that said Mancini was angry and couldn't be trusted to keep it to himself. As for Barry, he should have been off and you one down as soon as he tried to snap Whelan's ankle. The Whitehead challenge wasn't reckless in any way shape or form, you do realise that football is a contact sport, yes?

Posted by dta on 03/27/2012

The part I love is that Crouch mentioned that's a shot he practices.

I can't say how much I love the team we have now. I do sometimes wish we had an explosive Tuncay-type player (or sane Fuller!) available, but at the same time we'd need Pulis to put multiple strikers into play, so there's really no point in dreaming. Still, Whitehead is a prime example of what's so good about Stoke today, he's gone from a suspect second-rater, to one of our most valuable contributors. And our keepers! People envy our progression to top-10 contenders, but it's been done with some outstanding team building.

JW - The spirit is all important and Whitehead is a great example of that. You're right striker wise and like I said, Pulis has a huge task ahead of him both in that department and also wing wise too, can't wait...

Posted by Jolly Potter on 03/28/2012

James - I posted this on the Sentinel web-site:

Now we have shown that we have the capability to play football and score spectacular goals in open play without the lottery and farce of a Delap throw or Shotton throw lets start looking for the player who can bring not just the best out of Crouchie but guarantee the much needed foil to Crouch - the name is Jermaine Defoe - get the funds and put him upfront with Crouch and we will terrify defences in this League - home or away - Defoe is not happy at Spurs but a Waddington-like move for his skills with a big arm around his shoulders plus guaranteed first team football will do the trick. Industry and endeavour can only get us so far - it's time to think BIG Tone and Pete - start the negotiations now please and then you'll see some sights at the Brit and any other ground in the Prem.
Do you agree ? Who else could fill taht role ?

JW - I'd love to see Defoe here and I believe Pulis would too but that would mean him shoehorning him into his tried and trusted system or a complete overhaul of everything he believes in. I know which is more likely, our setup has destroyed some good strikers in the past and I'm not sure Defoe would fare much better, nor would Messi!

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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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