When the teams were announced I was quitely confident, Pulis seemingly trusting the hardworking Kightly enough to play both wingers. Though as much as this was a surprise to see away from home it was the more predictable negative mindset that lost us two points as the manager reverted to cautious type and withdrew both widemen with only fifteen minutes remaining.
It was inevitable, we’d been leading for far too long and Reading were starting to push forward in search of an equaliser. Though instead of having faith in the players that had kept Reading at bay for the previous 75 minutes, the manager saw fit to remove both of our wingers leaving a static and increasingly useless Crouch up front with no other out ball available to a team on the back foot, completely handing Reading the initiative. It was painful to watch, the ball kept coming back and the players were visibly frustrated, the fact that more than one were booked for timewasting showed just how much confidence they had in closing out the game with the lack of options available for moving the ball forward. It was embarassing and sadly epitomised the mindset we’d suffered last season and had all prayed would have changed over the summer.
Below are the other main talking points:
Wilson – It’s difficult to blame Marc too much given that he is being played out of position and whilst he didn’t drop any Collins esque’ clangers, he did struggle to make an impact defensively or offensively. Defensively he struggled on the back foot and and as well as making the fewest tackles and winning the fewest ground duels of anyone on the team he was also the only player whose made an error that resulted in a shot on goal. In terms of going forward (and therefore not taking into account the numerous angled balls) he also struggled and had the worse attacking half passing accuracy (40%) and final third passing accuracy (36%) Pulis seems to have noticed that this is an area of concern and we have been linked with three foreign ‘specialist’ left backs for what feels like the first time ever, so I’d expect Marc to be taken out of the firing line come September.
Etherington – The misery of our left side was compounded by the out of sorts Etherington who also had a less than impressive game which no doubt played a part in Wilson’s poor showing and indeed vice versa. He didn’t seem to be tracking back as eagerly and picked up much where he left off last season, out of sorts and not nearly as effective as we know he can be. His reluctance to take on his full back is a regular feature of his performances now and this was shown by the fact most of his passes went backwards (43%). This could also explain his poor crossing accuracy as often when faced with getting to the byline and increasing the chances of a successful delivery, he opts for an early, deeper cross which is nowhere near as effective and as such he only achieved a 14% accuracy. We’ve been linked with a few left wingers this window and I know that clubs have made attractive offers to Etherington and he is considering his future and given his form over the last 12 months it may represent a good move for all parties if we wished him well and moved him on for a hungrier, younger player to come in.
Kightly – I was impressed with the work ethic Kightly showed as well as his determination out on the wing. It didn’t take long for him to realise being a winger at Stoke is a different kettle of fish alltogether as he often found himself double/triple marked with no support. This was further evidenced by the fact that he only passed 5% of his balls to the left such was the total lack of options from the middle two which led to him attempting to do the impossible and beat all of his markers and often running out of space (highest overrunning of the ball) That said, when he did find himself in a position to cross he did so with three times the accuracy of Etherington (43%) I’m sure Michael will prove to be a big hit at Stoke and will prosper even more should we bring in a right back who is a little better with the ball at his feet and even more so with a willing midfielder breaking forward to support our attacks (I can but hope)
Crouch and Walters – In the absence of any arrivals this summer we once again saw Crouch and Walters start up top. The same problems persist in that respect and the static nature of our isolated front line is as much of a worry as ever. Surprisingly it was Walters who made the most of his chances as he looked a lot more mobile than the flogged version in the last few months of the season. Crouch was anonymous and despite having a high passing accuracy, most of those were backwards which would indicate a lack of pace to get past a defender or indeed that he was too deep with his back to goal and so was laying it off, the fact that Walters had four times as many shots as him is further testament to that. Whilst we have been linked with plenty of defenders and midfielders, the lack of rumours about strikers is a little worrying, the fact that Owen is one of those few names, even more so.
Whilst it seems that much is as it was at the tail end of last season, I still retain (blind) optimism that we will see some changes. I’ve heard that the manager has been very impressed with Cameron so am hopeful of him featuring against Arsenal and beyond, and if the manager trusts him and he is composed enough, maybe we will even see him joining up with the attacks. Whilst history would dictate that’s about as likely as Messi joining on deadline day, I’m still buoyed by the idea of his signing and of us seeking a proper full back, I know I keep mentioning it but the concept is so foreign, in every sense of the word, that’s it’s easy to underestimate the significance such a move would have. That said, the devil on my shoulder is telling me he won’t be Stoke fit for months or if he does feature we’ll stick him on the wing – I’m not listening for now though and will dare to dream, and to think some call me negative…
Vis Unita Fortior
(stats provided by @EPLIndex)