Stoke City play some of the most basic and unfashionable football in the Premier League, focusing mostly on disrupting their opponents’ play and defending en masse. But you know what? Their supporters do not expect free flowing football, they don’t expect them to dazzle their opponents, in fact, they applaud them voraciously every time one of their back four (or eight) hurtles the ball unceremoniously into the stands. That’s because it is their style of play: breaking the rhythm of their opponents, reducing the tempo of the game to a boring bare minimum. Their game is based on solid die-hard defending and set pieces, full stop. All that negativity bore Stoke City three points against us, in a game where the Reds dominated all the mentionable statistics by far, but failed miserably on the most important one: slamming the ball into the net!
But Stoke City’s negative, ugly style of play is not totally to blame here. The Reds did start on the front foot and mesmerized the Britannia with wave after wave, chance after chance, in the opening 10 minutes. But then we made the mistake we needed to avoid at all costs: we conceded and they went in front! Three substitutions, three penalty shouts and almost an hour of football later, we were still 1-0 down which gave the Reds their first defeat of the season.
Our performance, even though as we said statistics show an unchallenged dominance of the game, left a sour taste in our mouths. We may go back and recall the penalty shouts that were all legitimate, and we will say that Clatenberg might have been a wee bit harsh on us conceding to Walters’ fall inside our penalty box, but in truth, it was also a combination of factors and an outright absence of luck that made is head back home without getting anything from the game. At times we seemed to lack creativity and options in trying to break them down. Objectively our back four did not have much to do and especially after they went in front, they became practically redundant and operated mostly from the half way line handling sporadic forays by Crouchie and Walters well. From what I saw, even though Stoke are brilliant at killing the game, I tend to think there might have been a couple of options which we did not take advantage of, such as Downing and Adam not having cracks at goal from distance. Playing against a side that has the sole scope of not letting you play is not an easy task. It was not a pretty spectacle in any shape or form, and we really cannot slam out boys for lack of commitment can we?
I did feel that the swap between Henderson with Downing from left to right and vice-versa did not have too much effect on their staunch defence. Perhaps Bellamy should have come on immediately in the second half because he gave us so much more impetus and width when he came on, forcing Pulis to swap out-of-puff Huth for hitman Wilkinson. I do feel that at times we wait a bit too long to bring on the subs which in this case would be intended to give the team fresh legs and ideas!
This was a siege, make no mistake about it, and in such instances, when you continue to attack your opponent in the same way and they repel you time and again, they gain confidence, get used to your style, and the siege can last till eternity because you will not break them down. I wasn’t expecting the Reds to go the full season unbeaten, and I am realistic enough to expect setbacks, but I do expect the Reds overcome these obstacles and find the right solutions to win these games.