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Mystical Descent’s Stoke vs. Wigan review

December 13th, 2009 No comments

Potters 2-2 Wigan – In the eyes of mystical descent

 

Picture the scene. Sky are meeting Premier League Chief Executive Richard Scudamore on Saturday 5th of December.

Sky man: “We’ve got a bit of a problem, you see we let the work experience kid pick the Christmas TV matches and…well…he chose Stoke vs Wigan. Naturally, you can see our concern”

Scudamore: “Of course I can see the problem and I’m particularly concerned. Everyone knows that the proper supporters abroad who do what they can to watch their team on television, and it doesn’t seem right to repay them with those sort of teams. They want the likes of Drogba and Ronaldo”

Sky man: “Well Wigan have a greasy manager and a team of ‘flair’ players who spend lots of time on the floor, that must be a plus?”

Scudamore: “Yes, but we need to guarantee action. I will allocate that senile old fool Mike Dean as referee for the game, that will ensure some controversial incidents. It’s only Stoke and Wigan, who cares about the result?”

And so the scene was set for Mike Dean to spend 99 minutes wandering all over the pitch making enormous cock-ups. ‘A Wigan player on the floor with no apparent cause? Better book the nearest Stoke player, dirty Stoke must have done something.’ ‘A sliding tackle that involves you handling the ball in the box? Play on!”What’s that, Wigan want to make a substitution at half time? They won’t mind if I make them play with 10 men for the first few minutes.’ ‘Does Chris Kirkland have his arms around Tuncay’s neck as the ball goes into the box? Play on!’ ‘Who needs the offside rule, have a penalty!’ ‘Oh look, you’re on the floor again, I’ll book another Stoke player’.

In all seriousness, it is about time that the FA took action against these cheats. FIFA have refused to clamp down on diving, feigning injury and time wasting in international football, and so the FA must take a real lead in the war against the disease that is killing the game. It only takes one independent viewer to watch today’s game and decide ‘Gomez and Koumas – one year bans.’ Maybe that’s a little extreme, but unless the authorities take real action against these cowards who are killing the game, it will continue to flourish. Happily, asides from the occasional indiscretion from Fuller, we’re a team that abhor such antics and I’m proud of the fact that we’re one of the few teams in this league (the only other I’ve seen are Sunderland) who play the game the right way.

Soapboxing out of the way, now on to the match:

Sorensen – 6 – A third consecutive penalty save is a great achievement, but there’s no overlooking his culpability in the second goal and possibly even the first.
Huth – 6 – Had a decent game until the stupid penalty incident
Shawcross – 8 – Good at the back and a well-taken header
Faye – 8 – Back to his best, won everything in the air and was strong in the tackle
Wilkinson – 7 – Decent game, wrongly booked for a fine tackle on the captain of the Wigan Falling Down Society.

Delap – 5 – Sorry Rory, you just aren’t a right winger.
Whitehead – 6.5 – Poor first half, a much improved second half
Diao – 5 – Even with the cheat sympathiser referee, he gave away some very obvious fouls in dangerous positions.
Etherington – 6 – Awful first half, better second half.

Tuncay – 8 – Fine debut, a real threat when going forward. Could have had three goals.

Fuller – 7 – The turning point was when he went off. Even when it’s not working for him, he’s worth the pressure he keeps the defence under

Subs:

Whelan – 6 – Didn’t do much.
Beattie – 6 – Ditto.

What a very strange game that was. I don’t suppose I can get away without a huge comment on Tuncay’s home debut. To be honest, I’m really unsure of where we go from here, because he had a very good individual game and when he went forward with Fuller and Etherington we looked very good. He provided excitement, entertainment and a goal. It could have been even better, as there were so many ‘almosts’ – inches off one ball across the boss, just didn’t get enough on the end of a Fuller shot, a smart throughball that baffles the opposition players around him but just gets blocked by the defence. What’s more, he looked fully fit and he performed one of functions that we’ve missed with Mama out of the team, one that neither Kitson nor Beattie have provided. He was full of energy and did plenty of work on the opposition midfielders when they have the ball. That’s a big part of the withdrawn striker’s role and we’ve honestly missed it. However, there’s a catch. The way we set up, we have two get out balls:

1) Long ball up to the target man who wins it in the air. Fuller then keeps it in the opposition half as the team then catch up. We then keep the ball in the opposition half.

2) Etherington sprints out of defence with the ball and creates a chance on the break. Possibly wins a set piece, where the rest of the team then push up and create a chance.

When Etherington doesn’t perform, as he didn’t in the first half today, we then only have one get out ball. When Tuncay and Fuller are up front, we don’t have the first option. That’s not a criticism of Tuncay – running about the pitch winning the ball in the air against players like Scharner and Boyce. The problem is that it means we get trapped in our own half under pressure from the opposition, just like in the first half today. It’s all well and good to say that we need to play it along the floor and to his feet, but we just don’t have the players. Neither Diao, Whitehead, Delap or Whelan are of sufficient ball playing calibre for us to completely change our style of play. I think the answer may lie in the midfield. Scharner won absolutely everything in the air today and if we could have a player like him in the middle, I think that would allow us to play Tuncay and Fuller up front without having to worry too much about link up play, as Scharner would be able to get on the end of every long ball. Perhaps a pipe dream, but I’d love to see him at Stoke on today’s performance, so long as well drill his tendency to fall over out of him. I must admit, I’m very, very excited about the prospect of Tuncay and Fuller up front, so long as Fuller is big enough to put up with having another attacking star in the side.

The first half was very poor, partly for the reasons I mentioned above. It was massively frustrating when they scored, the referee had awarded them another nothing free-kick and Sorensen got a good hand to the initial header. Unfortunately, it bounced back into play off the bar and Boyce (another very good player, to be fair to Wigan, massively under-rated) got a free header. Very frustrating to concede a goal like that, especially amongst the confusion that followed, where the physios were rushed onto the pitch. Then, on the 35th minute, we got right back into the game almost by chance, a massively disappointing goal to concede from Wigan’s point of view. We had a corner and the ball ended up with Whitehead on the halfway line. To the fury of just about everyone, instead of knocking it back into the box he played it back to Sorensen. The team dropped back and Sorensen lumped it forward. “Aha”, you might think “And so Tuncay was beaten in the air by Scharner and nothing happened?”. Not so. Huth had stayed up for the corner and won the ball in the air. The Wigan defence, meanwhile, had fallen asleep and let Tuncay burst into the box, completely unmarked, and provide a fine finish. It was exactly what we needed and I think it was exactly what Tuncay needed. He was pretty clearly overjoyed and on the pitch was a breath of fresh air compared to the miserable Kitson – jogging around with a smile on his face, making jokes with everyone, having a laugh with Reid and Pulis – it must be good for the team.

We came out for the second half and put in a much better performance. We kept the ball in the opposition half a bit more, Etherington found his feet and Tuncay was electric. There were so many nearly moments with him, so many balls he was almost on the end of. The Wigan defence were all over the place and you could see why they conceded 9 goals against Tottenham. The futile tippy-tappy that they insisted on performing around their own box resulted only in us winning the ball back off them and creating another chance. Then, massively against the run of play, the referee gave a free-kick against Huth because another member of the Falling Down Society had fallen over. Sorensen was in no-man’s land and Figueroa flighted the ball perfectly into the top corner. You have to think it was poor from the goalkeeper, but you cannot take away the quality of the strike from Figueroa, I’m sure it’ll be amongst the contenders for ‘goal of the season’. Happily, we got the equaliser barely a minute later and it was no less than we deserved. Unfortunately, we just couldn’t break the door down and I couldn’t work out what we could do. The manager decided to try James Beattie, but I’m afraid that was the turning point in the game. Beattie played up top but he’s no Fuller and Wigan’s defence enjoyed a break from the pressure he applies. The result was that we became trapped in our own half, gave away a penalty (explain to me again why we’re losing Roberty Huth to suspension because of a penalty that you can only assume was given because the linesman confused a man in the crowd with a Stoke player) and fortunately, Sorensen saved it. I then expected us to go back to taking the game to Wigan, but instead we indulged in some keystone cops style stuff where we completely lost the plot. I think this period was typified by Wigan mishitting a corner to the near post, giving us a chance to break, but Whelan thumping it out for a throw-in next to the corner flag.

So, all in all, a game with a lot of positives and negatives. The negatives: Wigan’s consistent antics, our set-piece defending, the two silly goals, the third penalty we’ve given away in four games, our poor first half performance and the hopeless referee. Positives: Tuncay, the number of chances we created, Wilkinson’s tackle on Melchiot and Abdy looking imperious once more. I’ll leave you with the words of The Chairman of Wigan’s Falling Down Society, Roberto Martinez:

‘It’s not fair, in Spain the referees give everything to players who are smart enough to spend time on the floor, they don’t give enough protection to my valuable flair players and that goalkeeper came off his line a little bit to save a penalty that was deserved because all Stoke players are nasty thugs. Still, you can’t rely on the referee for everything and my brave superstars play brave football, like Tony Mowbray’s West Brom last season.’

I may have taken some liberties and paraphrased rather a lot with that quote. Oh well, here’s hoping for a good result next week against Villa

Stoke City vs Wolverhampton Wanderers – Match Report by Mystical Descent

November 1st, 2009 No comments

Stoke City vs Wolverhampton Wanderers – In the eyes of mystical descent

Sorensen – 6 – Didn’t have much to do really, no chance for the goals.Wilkinson – 7 – Good solid performance.
Faye – 6 – Pretty solid, but he lost the ball too easily.
Shawcross – 7 – Another good game.
Collins – 6 – Good first half, nightmare second half, not convinced he’s completely innocent regarding the goals.

Delap – 6 – Unspectacular but decent game.
Whelan – 5.5 – Poor, but nowhere near as bad as…
Whitehead – 4 – Anonymity defined.
Etherington – 8 – A fine game, has hit a real vein of form.

Beattie – 5.5 – Controversial perhaps, but despite his part in the own goal, he failed to win a thing in the air after his injury, missed an open goal and I think he may have been the man responsible for marking Craddock.

Fuller – 6 – Not at his best today.

Sidibe – 6 – First Stoke player to beat Craddock in the air all day. Not his best, but a decent return to action.

Tuncay – 5.5 – Worryingly, he was wholly unable to get himself into the game. 6 touches in 20 minutes or something like that?

Lawrence – 6 – Not on for very long, wasn’t great.

The review

I’ve got to say, I never thought at the start of the season that 11 games into the season we’d be 9th in the table and I’d be about to start a match report by saying that we massively missed Salif Diao today. It’s true though, we did, and neither Glenn Whelan nor Dean Whitehead offered the same qualities that Diao has recently. Diao has won the ball and released it relatively accurately in the last few games, and while Whelan is capable of the latter, unfortunately Whitehead offers us neither of these qualities. I don’t like to scapegoat players or laden them with undue criticism. I’ve defended Whitehead in recent weeks. However, today I cannot defend him. He did a very good impression of me when I play football – jogging around within a position and tracking any player in that zone without actually affecting the ball. Even when the ball was crossed to him in the box, he managed to deal with it anonymously. An attacking header? Nope, just nod it gently across the box. That’a stupid example really, but it typified him today for me. Massively disappointing. Next week at Hull it should be Delap and Diao in the middle, or Delap and Whelan if Diao is still injured.

 That’s what made the substitutions, for me, all the more baffling. I felt it was pretty clear that on the hour we needed to pull off Beattie for Sidibe because Beattie was winning nothing against Craddock in the air and was carrying an injury. I’d have also brought off Whitehead for Tuncay, so that we had somebody on the right to run at the hapless Elokobi and had more of a presence in the middle with Delap moved back inside. When we did bring on Sidibe, we rather bizarrely took off Delap and Fuller. Bringing on Mama has two advantages – his partnership with Fuller where Fuller is quite happy to feed off him winning everything in the air, and his superiority in the air from set pieces most notably the throw-ins. Taking off Fuller and Delap meant that he was simply a target for our defenders to aim the ball at so that it stuck up their end for a bit longer. It also meant the end of us as an attacking threat. Mama played the Mama role as always, Tuncay sort of wandered around behind him without actually doing anything anything and Lawrence just plain looked like he was carrying an injury. The substitutions just did not help us at all.

Just a little aside regarding the long throw. What’s with us only putting three players in the box for it and reducing actual movement within the box to a minimum? One player stands static on the post and two stand in the middle. We could do with having another centre-back in the box and somebody making a late run to catch the defence out. If we attacked the throws in the same we we attack the corners, I think we could have got more today. When we get a lot of throw ins, Delap works like a spin bowler in cricket. He varies the throw-ins, works the goalkeeper and then draws him out into no-man’s land, creating a clear chance. Wolves didn’t seem to have a clear plan for the throws except that Iwelumo should stay back and Hennesey should come out when regularly. Delap tried to work him, but it would have helped if there was a bit more jostling in the box to work to our advantage.

It’s amazing really that so far this whole report has taken such a negative tone after what was a fantastic first half where we really cruised in at half time. Wolves never really did much to threaten us and we made them look very, very slow. Etherington set up the first by simply running in a straight line at speed and they had no answer. The second goal came from a the long throw, which they never looked that able to defend. What a fine volley it was from Etherington, too. He’s really come into form these last few games and those question marks over his place in the team must be all but gone. He’s a throwback to the Etherington that played against Liverpool at home last season, instead of the disappointing Etherington that played against Sunderland. From our point of view, they were awful goals to concede. I’m not entirely convinced that Collins had nothing to do with it but Craddock was Beattie’s man, seeing as it was Sidibe who had to take responsibility for Craddock once he came on. It was just another reason that Beattie should have been taken off sooner, really, but very disappointing that we failed with the simple task of marking up from free-kicks. The fact that Chris Foy’s role in the first goal was as laughable as ever is besides the point and served only to cement Foy’s reputation as the worst official in the Premier League.

On another positive note, I was quite critical of the crowd last week, but the atmosphere was back to usual today. Perhaps some new songs in the repertoire would help, but the noise was around for pretty much the whole of the game today. I suppose the fact that we were playing Wolves and that their fans were up for it as well helped, but I would probably say that it was back to its best.

As for Wolves, well, they reminded me a lot of us at the very start of last season. They were slow and looked vulnerable on set pieces, there was mayhem in their defence at times. However, they managed to dig deep and pull a draw out of the bag, which is to their credit. I’m trying to choose my words very carefully because I remember how much we were patronised at this stage of last season as well. I didn’t think that they offered very much at all, they need an explosive striker and a new full-back to replace Elokobi. I predicted yesterday that he’s surely amongst the worst of the players in the Premiership and heaven only knows how he managed to get here and he did not disappoint. He’s some of the best entertainment we’ve had at Stoke for years, Pericard-esque in his style of slapstick antics.

The important thing now is that we pick ourselves up from the blow of losing a two goal lead at home, do plenty of work on the training ground this week, get our players back up to fitness and move on. A win against Hull would be an excellent result and I can think of no better time for it, with Phil Brown on the brink, Ibrahima Sonko marshalling the defence and Geovanni suspended.

Stoke City v West Ham United – Mystical Descent’s Matchday Review

October 19th, 2009 No comments

Stoke City v West Ham United

Saturday October 17th. 2009

Mystical Descent’s Matchday Review

First off, the ratings:

Sorensen – 6 – At fault for the goal, but made up for it with some safe hands.
Huth – 8 – Strong, reliable, powerful in the air, firm in the tackle.
Shawcross – 10 – MotM, I don’t know what more he could have done today, absolutely superb.
Faye – 6 – Not his best Stoke performance.
Collins – 7 – First competent game he’s had for Stoke.
Delap – 7 – Excellent job defensively and not his worst game on the ball either, but doesn’t offer as much on the right as Lawrence.
Diao – 8 – Where’ve we had this bloke from?
Whitehead – 7 – Perfectly reasonable game.
Etherington – 7.5 – Gave away possession a lot, but much better today, much more effective.
Beattie – 8 – Won a lot in the air but I never felt like he was pulling his weight. Can’t argue with 2 goals though.
Fuller – 9 – Superb performance, tore their defence to shreds.

Subs:

Lawrence – 7 – Should have started.
Whelan – 6
Kitson – 6

Referee: 4 – The penalty was about the only thing he got right.

What a superficial beast the Premier League is. How long have we been told how wonderful West Ham are and how silky their football is? I’ll tell you what I saw out there – a shallow team that flattered to deceive. Lots of tippy-tappy football and a modicum of attacking flair, but absolutely no substance. We work on an intricate defensive system of covering, marking and responsibility. West Ham go out, tippy-tappy it, lose the ball, give the opposition lots of time to do what they want and fail to do any tracking back. Asides from Carlton Cole, who was excellent and who I would fully advocate making the England team ahead of Heskey and maybe even Davies, their team were very, very poor. What makes it all the worse is that they’re on the receiving end of eternal praise from all corners of the media and it really does sum up the superficial nature of the league today. They were typified by that number 32, Diamanti. A very, very mediocre player who looks reasonably comfortable on the ball but has no defensive ability and so resorts to cheating. Shawcross was booked for nothing. He was even a yard past Diamanti when Diamanti clutched his shin and audibly screamed like a little girl. How sad it was that the referee, instead of kicking him in the face and sending him off, indulged his precious little antics. What’s even worse, nobody will bat the slightest eyelid at it and soon enough he’ll be praised for his lovely tippy tappy again. It’s a sad, sad indicator of the modern values in football.

As for the game, I thought we were worth the win. Bizarrely, West Ham backed off us and gave us plenty of time on the ball and we started very well. Whitehead and Diao were putting in good challenges and ensuring that we kept possession, while Delap was actually managing to make a bit of a nuisance of himself on the right. A fantastic little move down the left between Collins, Fuller and Etherington led to the penalty and from where I was it looked like the right decision. A fine move and a perfect penalty from Beattie. Somebody tell the gutless Gerrard and Lampard that instead of tapping the ball straight into the goalkeeper’s hands in penalty shoot outs, all they need to do is smack it hard and high into the goal. Perfect technique that a lot of players could learn from.

After the goal, things got a little flat. I still felt that we were the better team but we sat back a little bit and weren’t creating anything. Delap was having constant chats with the physio about something and the bench were clearly concerned, but I thought we were still quite comfortable and West Ham looked a shambles. Then they won a corner, which I found strange as I thought that firstly it came off one of their players and secondly it went for a throw-in. Sorensen came for it and didn’t get it and somebody lost their man, who headed home comfortably. It was disappointing and we didn’t really get going again in the half.

Happily, when we came back out we were back in control of the game and I felt we dominated the midfield. However, Diao was on a booking and Beattie was looking increasingly tired. Were I the manager, it would have been Lawrence and Kitson on. Even so, we had our moments and we put together one good move in particular. We brought Lawrence on for the injured Delap, although as I’ve already said I’d have brought him on for Diao and moved Delap back inside, and his impact was as instant as ever. It invigorated us and almost instantly Diao (the subject of much criticism around me) played a good ball to Fuller who did his man for pace and trickery before getting his shot in. England’s number one then pulled off a real clanger and dumped the ball right in front of Beattie, who’d run an absolute mile to only just beat the defender to the ball. After that it was all Stoke and again pretty comfortable, we could and perhaps should have scored more as Fuller broke their lines again and again. Plenty of comedy as well, as we wheeled out more and more players with a long throw. Diao, Beattie and then Huth, fantastic stuff.

Now a mention for Whitehead and Diao. I thought they both had good games today. They kept the ball pretty well and won their fair share of balls as well. Whitehead has suffered an awful lot from being targeted by the Whelan mafia for providing a threat to Glenn Whelan, but I made a special point of watching him today and he put in a perfectly acceptable shift. They were particularly good at the start of the game, when they kept possession well and were consistently finding the wide players. Maybe it was because West Ham gave us much more space than every other team, but I didn’t have any real problem with them.

I’ve got to have one little moan though and it’s not one that I like having to make. I’m not a fan of criticising my fellow fans and I’m likely to get hammered for this, but we were very poor today and I don’t know what excuse everyone has? We got straight out of the blocks, took the lead and were looking very good, we just needed some extra backing from the fans to carry on the momentum. Instead, everyone just shut up, it was silent for most of the first half. Why? Apparently it’s a two way thing and the team did their bit. Do we now not make an atmosphere if its cold? If the manager doesn’t pick the team that we want to play? If the manager leaves out Tuncay or Whelan? I’m sorry, but after all the people who responded to Pulis’ rallying letter saying ‘the fans will respond if you give us something to shout about’ it was a real blot on the day. Perhaps worst of all was when we put together a decent second half move involving most of our players, including Whitehead, Diao and Delap. I can’t remember what happened but there was half a chance and the ball went out for a goal-kick, but instead of urging the team on further or offering encouragement, the fans just chanted for Whelan. Glenn bloody Whelan. Not Kitson. Not Tuncay. Not Lawrence, who came on and changed the game. Glenn bloody Whelan. Absolutely ridiculous. I seriously hope we pull our collective finger out of our collective arse for the next home game and make the ground properly intimidating.

I don’t want to end on a negative note though after what was a good performance and a well deserved win. We shouldn’t finish below West Ham next season at the very least.

A good win, very proud of the team and here’s to a week of shutting the fuck up about Tuncay! ;)

 

MYSTICAL DESCENT