The Wolves game saw us play our 50th game of the season which is quite an achievement given that our game is based largely on chasing the other team down all over the pitch with about 30% possession. As always there were plenty of talking points, good and bad which I’ll try and summarise below.
Team/Approach – I think the Manager’s team selection and approach reflects the fact he considers us to be safe, as indeed it does every year about this time, and with that we have seen a loosening of the shackles. We’ve also seen him giving an outing to Shotton at right back, the position I believe he has the brightest future in, and given he was up against Jarvis and Agbonlahor he coped admirably and is now for the first time, in my mind, in a position to seriously challenge Wilko for that spot on a full time basis as well as giving the manager food for thought as he plans his Summer recruitment drive.
Whilst Shotton’s final ball has often been frustrating this season, that has been when he’s been expected to put balls into the box as a winger and at right back he has to do that about two or three times a game and as such is concentrating more on using the talents he does have in a more defensive capacity namely his speed and composure. He did much better than I ever expected back there and Pulis would be stupid not to give him the remainder of the games to stake a claim for next season and allow Wilko to properly rest the injury he’s been struggling and playing with for months.
Our new right back?
Huth – Rob’s had a great season once he got back in his favoured position and with two goals in as many games seems to have rediscovered his knack for scoring important goals as we seek to cement a top ten finish. This season we have relied very heavily on set plays and after last season’s return, his lack of goals this term has had a profound effect on the club’s ‘for’ column. The fact there is even an expectation of him in that respect says more of our inability as a whole to create chances in open play rather than him not having as much joy in front of goal. It is of paramount importance that we sort his contract out as soon as possible, he’s been a rock for us and should be for many years to come.
Palacios – Yesterday’s favourable climate meant that we saw a more encouraging glimpse of Palacios with the Honduran showing what he is capable of in the middle alongside the ever willing running of Whitehead. I’ve commented before on Wilson’s composure and range on the ball but it was his work off it that had seriously let him down on previous occasions. I’m glad to say that this side of his play appears to have improved immeasurably since his last outing and he kept much better shape when the team was on the back foot. Despite being the man who was tracking the goalscorer, I believe he did all he could and was simply outdone by a great pass, move and finish. I’m hoping nay praying that the Austrian Alps can carve out the player we all hoped for and come August we’ll have a lean, mean, drilled destroyer in the middle, something we’ve been crying out for since our return to the top flight.
Pennant – Whilst it was great to see Pennant start the Wolves match, it was disappointing that he didn’t make the first XI for the Villa game. I don’t need to keep repeating the fact he is one of our best players, his performances from the start and indeed the bench tell us that time and again as these latest games saw him chip in with two more assists. His deadball delivery is second to none, seriously, I have checked and his success rate in this respect is the best in the league followed by Bale and Valencia, in fact it is twice that of Steven Gerrard. This isn’t a one off for Pennant though and he has been consistently up there for years now which makes his exclusion this season even more mind boggling. If it was up to me I’d follow up Huth’s next big deal with one for Jermaine.
Walters – I’ve not really commented too much on Walters this season. It’s plain to see that he is struggling physically and mentally and has been for a while, sadly the one man who can’t see this is the one that keeps picking him and urging him on from the touchline week after week. As Stoke fans we have come to expect and accept a deep striker, be that an athletic target or marathon man and given Crouch is going nowhere anytime soon, this is the position that needs urgent attention in the Summer. I actually think that the answer could be an attacking midfielder. We have tried for years to find strikers for this role, strikers who have to sacrifice and curb their natural game to drop deep into midfield to help out then bust a gut to get forward so why not try a midfielder who does this anyway? I think there are probably a well known handful or so of strikers who could do this role but there are many more box to box midfielders who could do a sterling job in my opinion. You only have to look at the success over the years of Tim Cahill and more recently Clint Dempsey, this is the route we should be going down in my opinion if we’re to persist with the manager’s favoured system.
Jones – A final word for Kenwyne who I believe has been subject to unreasonable stick this season. He was our top scorer last season, firing us to Wembley and Europe, in fact he is our all time top scorer in Europe too as well as being the top scorer this season until Crouch’s arrival before being so readily dropped. We all know that his attitude needs work and that’s why he is with us and not one of the top four teams but with that in mind to treat him so badly is it any wonder he doesn’t perform when he gets thrown the odd game every other month?
Lest we forget...
The way he has been treated is disgraceful, what possible incentive is there for a player who knows he will never oust the golden boy? Since dropping Jones the team as a whole has suffered, especially with the omission of Pennant too, I’ve always said that Crouch is a better player but in our system Jones is. He lets Pulis play his preferred way without compromising any of his age old methodologies, whereas with Crouch, we have to make sure there are changes elsewhere in the approach to get players around him to counter the lack of pace. This may not necessarily be a bad thing but it presents Pulis with an even bigger challenge this summer as he looks like losing Jones, Jerome and maybe even Fuller as a result, add into that the possibility that Pennant could go and that we may have seen the best of Etherington and that leaves one hell of a rebuilding job to do with the front four. The transfer windows are painful as it is but I get the feeling this one could be the most nerve racking yet…
Vis Unita Fortior