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.
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.