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.
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.
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.
Vis Unita Fortior