Posts Tagged ‘Tonypulis’

Puliser Prised – The end of an era

May 23rd, 2013 No comments

The most surprising aspect of the sacking of Tony Pulis was the startling ruthlessness with which it was carried out.  Several months ago when  Peter Coates announced publicly he’d never really approved of the finance involved in the Peter Crouch signing ,many sensed change was afoot.  What few could have predicted is less that 48 hours after the end of the season Tony Pulis would be dismissed.

Few could deny that in the second half of 2012/13 we hit a dead end.  The malaise was only  exacerbated by the manager’s refusal to change.  We paid a heavy price for Pulis’ stubborn obsession with work rate over craft… when the reliance on graft over guile wasn’t working there was blunt refusal to try any other method.  This was particularly frustrating because in phases Stoke  have been shown to be able to play a more expansive game yet we were dragged back to the artless lottery of the hopeless punt forward.  The mindset of supporters was hardly brightened when we saw clubs with smaller budgets press ahead and evolve…. and we certainly didn’t snag any Michu type bargains!  The age of the team was also an issue.  Few players under the age of 24 were ever considered for the starting line up.  This meant 1 the players being reared by the academy would simply be farmed out elsewhere and 2 as the players we buy are in their late 20s  rarely would any have  sell on value.  These issues and transfer policy in general may well have been the decisive factors in his sacking.

The initial question is whether or not his sacking was the correct course of action.  There is no doubt it contains an element of risk.  The fact remains Pulis had indeed kept us in the top flight for five seasons and has never been relegated as a manager.  However, that can be deemed null and void  when we remember in recent months we were sleepwalked to the edge of a relegation dogfight.  In the last eighteen months we have regressed at an alarming rate, there is no reason to believe we wouldn’t be sucked into the mire next year had he been given another season.  Another matter which has to be mentioned is the nature of the team and the seemingly limited ambition.  While survival and 40 points are undoubtedly a priority to hear those aims mentioned with such monotonous regularity, at the expense of anything else, left a bleak aura surrounding the team and club in general.  Being prepared to do little more than dig out 0-0 draws or perhaps sneak a 1-0 win was never going to be a thrilling spectacle.  Watching Stoke City play football became, at times, an awful way to spend time.  In that respect his sacking has saved him from himself… every time we played he damaged his own legacy.  So the point has to be made, despite the obvious risk his dismissal is the right decision.  A new direction is required and Tony Pulis has never displayed a tendency to embrace change.

Despite the miserable conclusion to his reign the point has to be made Tony Pulis has been a successful Stoke manager.  Promotion and Premier League stability should ensure applause if he manages a visiting team at the Britannia Stadium, not to mention the FA Cup Final and resulting European campaign.  It’s fair to say the vast majority of Stoke supporters wish Tony Pulis well in the next phase of his life and career.  Thank you and goodbye Tony.

Here’s a couple of videos

One showing TP after the Villa game

another as he leaves the pitch at the Brit for his final time as manager of Stoke City



Am awful month, Qatargate, a timely reminder.

January 30th, 2013 No comments

January 2013 was an horrendous month for Stoke City.  The FA Cup exit is disappointing but from the moment Manchester City were drawn we knew it was going to be a tall order to reach the 5th round.  Collecting only one league point is a real let down… especially after the exuberance of December.  The dismal 2-2 draw at home Wigan was a real low for our season.  Whilst respecting all sides in this league it’s fair to say that when you go 2-0 up, at home to a side in the bottom three, it’s reasonable to expect to win the game.  Not only were we pegged back to 2-2 we showed little desire to get back on top and win the game and seemed to settle for a draw.  Wigan were so much more comfortable on the ball and must be frustrated not to have finished the job and  actually pulled off an unlikely away win.  Our 0-0 draw at Tottenham on December 22nd was a masterclass in defensive play.  Every opponent’s run was covered and we defended collectively, cutting down angles and ensuring Spurs had nowhere to go.  Another understated admirable aspect was that when defending in our own penalty box we rarely went for the tackle, so not risking an opposition penalty.  That level of application focus and endeavour was Stoke City at their best.  Tony Pulis must be wondering what’s changed.  In his post match comments Pulis stated a need to get back to basics.  That is understandable but intending to play out 0-0 draws would be as unnecessary and inexcusable as ever.  The next home game is against Reading and nothing less than a win will do.

Confirmation finally arrived last week.  After months of speculation Michel Platini  announced 13 different cities would host the  2020 European Championship.  UEFA’s claim it will be a ‘Euro for Europe’ is an honorable attempt at altruism, but it does seem it’s a situation they would have preferred to avoid…. a claim graphically illustrated by the fact Platini insisted the competition would return to it’s traditional format in 2024!  The monumental error was to expand the competition to 24 teams.  As well as diluting the quality of football on offer it makes staging the tournament much more complicated and a lot more expensive.  The problems finding bidders to host for the 2020 competition suggested  UEFA’s number crunchers were oblivious to the current precarious state of the global economy.

Paris based magazine France Football is carrying a 16 page article titled “Qatargate”. As the title suggests, the article is focused on Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup.   The decision to award hosting rights to Qatar is perhaps the most controversial moment in FIFA’s history.  It’s hard to find anybody who doesn’t feel the bid was riddled with corruption.  Anything that sheds light on these murky waters is to be welcomed.   If the allegations are proven to be factual the onus will be on FIFA to  take 2022 off Qatar and ensure those who abused their rights are removed from the game and prosecuted.

Eventually Lance Armstrong was outed.   Tenacious investigative journalism and the public’s clamour for truth and justice saw Armstrong exposed as the cheat he’s been.  It’d be easy to see the Armstrong case in isolation but the clamour for truth over football’s administrators is just as strong.  Resilient journalism and public pressure can yet shake the complaceny of those who hide away in Swiss ivory towers.  It may be a long drawn out struggle but the Lance Armstrong story proves it can be done.

The most infuriating aspect of Eden Hazard kicking out at the ballboy was that it detracted attention from Swansea’s brilliant achievement.  Deservedly beating Chelsea over two legs was a special moment.  Unfortunately, they didn’t get the credit they richly deserve because the media were fixated on one moment of stupidity.  Michael Laudrup has done a remarkable job so far at Swansea.  He’s managed to continue the club’s impressive progress while mainatining the philosophy of predecessor Brendan Rogers.    As for Rogers, Liverpool’s FA Cup defeat at Oldham confirms his first season managing Liverpool will prove to be trophyless.  His team is making progress and we are beginning to see the his vision reach fruition.  For all that there is an unavoidable irony when his previous club Swansea have reached a Wembley final and Liverpool, in time honoured tradition, are concentrating on the league!

Cape Verde is a great story to emerge from the African Nations Cup in South Africa.  Their dramatic 2-1 victory over Angola secured them second place in the group  and a place in the quarter finals.  With a population of just 500,000 this is a huge moment for  the West African nation.  The feat is all the more impressive on learning that Cape Verde doesn’t actually have any grass football pitches!  Their delight was understandable.  To demonstrate their elation the players stormed the post match press conference, watch and smile!

In the modern game we can be forgiven for feeling overawed by talk of agents, TV deals business and self interest.  Stories like Swansea Oldham and Cape Verde are a timely reminder  why we live this football life.



Bore draw, futile posturing, becoming the greatest, the end of an aura

December 13th, 2012 No comments

While some 0-0 draws are absorbing and entertaining the same can’t be said of Stoke City’s game at Villa Park on Saturday.  In fact at times it was difficult to watch.  Villa pressured us early on but lacked the craft to create anything substantial.  Stoke were unadventurous and we seemed to have settled for a 0-0 draw from the start.  Dull though it undoubtedly was there were some positive aspects of our performance.  We displayed characteristic tenacity to gain a point.  Organised and  disciplined, we rarely looked likely to concede a goal.  We’ve now conceded fewer goals than any other Premier League team.  As has been the hallmark of Tony Pulis’ reign… we are hard to beat!  A defensive record like ours is impressive for any team in any league in the world… some additional attacking drive into our approach would be most welcome.

An infuriating aspect of the match was Ryan Shotton’s sending off for two yellow cards.  The first yellow was avoidable, not giving the ball back for a free kick was foolish. Ryan’s second yellow was an absolute travesty. Fabian Delph cheated for no reason other than to get a fellow professional sent off.  For too long authorities have talked of removing diving from the game but decisive action is yet to be asserted.  Shotton now has to serve a one match ban while Delph’s horrendous anti football hoodwink goes unpunished.  If they aren’t prepared to act administrative bodies should spare us their futile fatuous empty posturing.

Having charmed much of Europe it’s now increasingly likely Michel Platini’s idea to stage the 2020 European Championship across the continent will come to fruition.  The plan has proved to be unpopular with one poll stating that 82% of fans oppose the proposed format.  The reason this formula was even suggested was borne of UEFA’s decision to expand the competition from 16 to 24 teams.  As well as diluting the quality of football on offer it makes staging the tournament considerably more complicated and much more expensive.  The problems finding bidders to host for the 2020 competition suggests  UEFA’s number crunchers are seemingly oblivious to the current precarious state of the global economy.

On Sunday Brisbane Roar were beaten by Western Sydney Wanderers.  Brisbane are a much different team than the one that won two consecutive A-League titles under Ange Postecoglou.  Style panache and fluidity have been replaced by disjointed nervous vulnerability. During much of Postecoglou’s reign Brisbane carried an aura of invincibility, an aura borne of one simple factor… winning games of football.  Since Postecoglou was replaced by his assistant Rado Vidosic, the players have lacked the previous years technique and, more significantly, the hunger that drove them to be crowned champions.  Hopefully Vidosic and the players can address the flaws and Brisbane can launch a defence of their title, but the point has to be made, Brisbane Roar have well and truly lost their aura.

Few can deny that Lionel Messi is the outstanding player of the modern era.  Messi combines agility with skill and, of course, goals.  The method which leads to many of the goals brings inevitable comparisons with Diego Maradona.  Amid the unquestionable brilliance  he has another requirement to fulfill in order to be truly regarded amongst football’s all time greats.  Despite what some of UEFA’s  sponsors and marketing executives would like us to believe, the World Cup remains the pinnacle of world football. At a World Cup players are out of their comfort zone and face different challenges.  if Messi is to be  placed in the same bracket as Zidane, Pele and Maradona he needs to confirm his status by displaying his genius in Brazil.






Stoke City Blog – Michael and I, Cannon Fodder, Skullduggery, Stability and a Superstar

September 10th, 2012 No comments

When 17 year old Michael Owen burst onto the scene in 1997 it taught me a vital lesson…. football supporters can maintain wondrous childlike fascinations other people can’t.  Despite being 28 years of age and  carrying battle hardened cynicism like a medal, I immediately idolised Owen.   He was a very special player.  Talented, fast and exciting, with an ability to create a yard of space for himself and score goals from odd angles.  Michael Owen had the lot.  I hoped for the boy wonder’s inclusion in Glenn Hoddle’s World Cup squad and my wish was granted.  In St Etienne he scored his brilliant solo goal against Argentina my prodigy, rightly, became a global superstar.  On his return to club football he scored a brilliant hat trick against Newcastle.  As the plaudits rolled in the cap size remained the same.  The archetypal mature head on young shoulders. One of my dearest wishes was for Owen to beat Bobby Charlton’s England scoring record…. for Owen to make history, and to shed one of the ghosts of 1966.  Ongoing injuries scuppered that possibility but 40 goals in 89 international appearances is an impressive record for any player.  Having spent time in the football wilderness, few could deny that Stoke City’s new acquisition is something of a risk. He’s signed a one year contract.  The pace of youth may have gone but penalty box instinct like that never leaves.  It’d be foolish to set a target so if he can just score some goals for us the risk will have paid off.  And we can return to St Etienne, albeit briefly. Good luck Michael!!

(Want to see Micheal’s first goals at the Brit? Check this out and let’s hope we see plenty more soon  – Owen at The Brit )// //

In Moldova, England produced a professional performance.  From the moment Frank Lampard’s penalty put us ahead the result wasn’t in doubt.  Nobody can claim Moldova are a major player on the world stage but in the past these games have been more difficult that they should be, so to run out 5-0 winners is satisfying.  Ukraine provide England’s next challenge and will be a much tougher proposition.  But if everyone plays with the same level of discipline and focus we have every chance of winning the game.  The national team is now operating on a much more stable footing.  It’s pleasing that Hodgson’s experience and wisdom has removed the drama and the circus that surrounds the England set up.

There is very little glory for the lesser European nations.  Did Andorra’s 0-5 thrashing by Hungary assist their footballing development in any way at all?  Has Lichtenstein’s 1-8 defeat to Bosnia helped them to acclimatise to the demands of the international game?  Of course not.  Having so many teams in who are merely cannon fodder is devaluing the qualifying process.  This could get worse too.  The foolish decision to expand the European Championship from 16 to 24 teams will result in almost half the teams in the qualifying competition will take part in the tournament.   It has to be the right time to introduce a preliminary qualifying competition.  Surely it’s time to put emphasis on quality.

The Confederation of African Football recently held their national conference in the Seychelles.  Amid allegations of corruption, Issa Hayatou has been the president of the CAF for 25 years.  Rumours had floated around the African game that 2010 World Cup CEO Danny Jordaan was preparing to stand against Hayatou.  Organising a World Cup and experience of negotiating with other federations suggests Jordaan is man worthy of African football’s top job.  However, at last weeks conference new rules were introduced preventing any challenge from Jordaan.  Those without CAF voting rights are no longer allowed to challenge for Hayatou’s job, effectively handing the president re-election unopposed.  An undemocratic act of cunning which does nothing to restore the public’s faith in the game’s administrators.

Superstar Alessandro Del  Piero has joined Sydney FC. It is undoubtedly the biggest signing in the A-League’s (admittedly short) history.   The general response is positive.  Undoubtedly it will  encourage many non football fans to attend a few games generating much needed revenue and interest.   It’s also a relief as it provides pre season in Australia with a fresh discussion point after  recent crowd violence.  So overall, it’s ‘good for the game’ in Australia.  However, it isn’t the only way to promote football.  Risking accusations of bias, I suggest that Brisbane Roar’s recent achievements eclipse anything Del Piero can contribute  to football here.  Ange Postecoglou transformed Brisbane Roar into the most formidable force in the history of Australian sport.  Playing quick crisp exciting football, Brisbane swept aside all comers with an irresistible combination of incisive passing and an ability to create chances at will. Watching these dazzling displays of kaleidoscopic movement was an absolute privilege.  It’s entirely appropriate that Roar wear orange shirts.  It’ll be exciting to see a player of Del Piero’s stature in the flesh, but it isn’t the only way forward.
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5 down 35 to go, a piece of history, Wenger’s humiliation

September 1st, 2011 No comments

At West Brom on Sunday we registered our first win of the season.  It’d be pointless to deny that it was an horrendous game.  Understandably, the massed ranks of connoisseurs in the away end didn’t care too much!  Winning an away game is a great feeling.  Winning away with a threadbare squad after a game on the previous Thursday is a gargantuan effort from our players.  It’s worth noting that of all the English sides to play in European competition in midweek we were the only one to win at the weekend.  Poor though the game was it’s worth emphasising that West Brom were no better than Stoke.  In the second half  we contained their threat in comfort.  The nature of our late goal exacerbates the notion that West Brom were unlucky but in actual fact they looked as lacklustre as we did for most of the game.  At least we have the excuse of having played a game only three days before to fall back on!  In his post match comments Roy Hodgson suggested the goal should have been disallowed.  He may have a point but Ben Foster should have collected Walters’ ball with the minimum of fuss.  From the point where Shotton nicked the ball there was a second, that seemed to last an hour, where everyone stopped and looked to see if the ref had blown for a foul.  After gleefully placing the ball into the net Shotton himself looked back!  The whistle remained silent, the goal stood and we’d grabbed victory.  35 more points and we’ll be assured another season the top flight!

Despite the low key start to our season,it’s been a prosperous one.  To have played seven games, remained unbeaten, and only conceded two goals is better than many of would have dared dream of.  We’re soon to enter new territory with our Europa League campaign.  The draw could have been much kinder.  We face Dynamo Kiev,  Besiktas and Maccabi Haifa… three teams with European heritage.  To reach the next round would be a huge feat.  One thing in our favour is us… the fans.  The Guardian report of  the FC Thun game described The Britannia Stadium as an ‘unforgiving’ venue.  That perception needs to be  reinforced.  Home form will be crucial to our chances.  Our guttural roar is a huge asset.  Get the Brit shaking with that raucous din!

Eventually, the transfer window proved productive.  We need Wilson Palacios to inject some much needed drive into the midfield.  Palacios was a talented youngster when he arrived in England.  His career hit something of a dead end following his brother’s death.  He still has the drive and the talent in him.  Again, the supporters can play a part by simply helping  him to feel welcome!  Sing his name and make sure he knows he’s wanted.    The signing of Peter Crouch is our rock the city signing.  Big name player with international pedigree.  Some question the wisdom of this signing.  It is a risk but all signings have an element of risk.  There’s one way to win over the doubters and thats to be part of a winning team.   A few goals wouldn’t go amiss either!  Tony Pulis will be relieved to have a deeper squad to select from.

Manchester City’s ruthlessly efficient destruction of Spurs shows that, finally, we are beginning to see where all the money’s gone. It was an impressive display that hammered out a warning to the rest of the league.  The pace and power of their midfield bamboozled Spurs.  After the game Arry looked depressed.  Having to admit that he’d had to persuade Luca Modric to play must have hurt as much as the result.  They were up against a top quality team but to be so comprehensively, effortlessly dismantled points to deeper problems at White Hart Lane.  Manchester City’s display was the performance of the week, for a few hours anyway…

In his excellent book ‘Manchester United ruined my life’ author, Man City supporter Colin Shindler remembers 1968.  1968 was the last time Man City won the league.  The elation and acclaim was short lived however when they were upstaged weeks later when their loathed red neighbours lifted the European Cup.  Last season when they won their first trophy for 35 years, they were overshadowed somewhat by Man Utd securing the league title a few hours before.  On Sunday when the sky blues left the pitch at White Hart Lane they must have felt they had set the marker for the rest of the league to follow, only to be usurped yet again by their red nemesis! 

There are times when some football stories get a life of their own and grow out of context.  In  the hyperbole drenched world of the Premier League some irrelevant things get unjustified airtime.  That can’t be said about Man Utd’s 8-2 thrashing of Arsenal.  That game is a piece of history. Man Utd’s brilliance was so absolute that you can honestly say that Arsenal  got off lightly.  It was also the day an idea died.  Arsenal were exposed.  With a depleted squad and forced to field youngsters, Wenger sent them out to play the only way he knows.  Even 1-4 down they just carried on doing what wasn’t working.  It’s an old saying: The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.  You even get the feeling that faced with the same situation he’d do the same thing again. The camera caught his humiliation several times in the second half.  He really looked like a man not waving but drowning.  Wenger may continue as Arsenal manager for years to come, but Manchester United 8 Arsenal 2 will be etched in the mind as a milestone, for varying reasons. 

It’s great to see Chris Powell enjoying some success as Charlton Athletic manager.  As a player he was a solid reliable professional.  Football doesn’t always provide justice but Powell’s  England selection in 2001  was just reward for his commitment to the game. Never the most flashy or glamorous player, he can  reflect on those 5 England appearances and proudly remember his playing career.  If he carries  the same level of application into management Charlton will have a gem on their hands and promotion will surely beckon.  Good luck Chris!!

A late point, Spanish stand off, Harry’s hype and a get well soon.

August 24th, 2011 No comments

Eventually, our injury depleted travel weary warriors emerged from Carrow Road with another  point.  We attacked  early on in the game but, as is the current way, rarely threatened to open the scoring.  Our enterprising start soon fizzled away as Norwich settled and pressed us back.  Lacking the quick feet to operate in tight areas, we too often squandered precious possession by hopelessly hitting long balls.  Jonesy can win a ball in the air but if he’s isolated it merely gives the ball back to the opposition.  For much of the first half   Kenwyne received little support. It was  tortuous  for Stokies to watch at times.  Pennant’s substitution after half an hour only increased our  despondecy… in all fairness to Danny Pugh, seeing him replace Pennant hardly boosted confidence.   When De Laet scored with a classy header it looked bleak.  Half time was a miserable place.  To our relief the second  half saw an improvement. Shorter more precise balls led to us building attacks gradually.  As a result, our midfield could support the front two. Tony Pulis was right when he stated in his post match comments that we had posed a threat before the red card was given.  It was nevertheless infuriating that we couldn’t capitalise on an outrageous piece of luck.  Barnett tussled with Walters outside the box and it’s even questionable whether it was a foul let alone a penalty.  The red card was fortuitous to say the least.  Failing to take advantage of the penalty award was frustrating.  Ruddy’s save wasn’t particularly impressive, Walters penalty was dreadful.  We continued to toil away but for all but the last two minutes of stoppage time it seemed Walters miss would prove costly.  Ryan Shotton’s introduction gave our play a much needed new dimension.  His ability to overlap on the right and put quality crosses into the box was crucial to the late pressure that culminated in our equaliser.  Jonesy’s late header finally dragged us a point from what, at times, looked a desperate situation. 

The performance of Ryan Shotton was a huge positive to take from the game.  There’s no real reason why he shouldn’t start at right back at WBA.  If you’re good enough you’re old enough.  Not that age should be a problem.  Shotton is 22.  By the age of 22 Ryan Giggs had won two Premier League winners medals and an FA Cup.  Huth is a colossus in the centre and will be certain to start.   Of course this means that Shawcross or  Woodgate would have to warm the bench.  That’s a difficult decision for the manager but it’s his job to make those decisions.  The main thought we take from the game is a simple one, one so glaringly obvious it’s almost an embarrassment to say it…. we really need to buy some new players.

Liverpool’s victory at the Emirates was just reward for a complete performance.  They bossed the game and used their extra man to good advantage following Frimpong’s dismissal.  Three points well earned.  Some sections of the media have fancifully suggested that this could be the year Liverpool finally get the monkey off their back and win the league.  Kenny Dalglish will be aware of the dangers of such misplaced optimism.  To build a structure which provides a title winning platform will take several seasons.  A huge step for that structure would be provided by winning a cup or two.  Liverpool’s cup tie at Exeter this week takes extra significance.  The days are gone when they can regard this competition as a hindrance and send out a half baked team.  Liverpool need to start winning trophies again….. that would be a meaningful step towards the big one.

While the English Premier League is underway the Spanish League has been stalled by a players strike.  The issue at stake is unpaid wages.  In the lower leagues 200 players are owed in the region of 50m Euros.  A mind boggling statistic.  Before starting the season the players are demanding assurances that the outstanding wages will be paid in full.  It’s understandable that the supporters are keen to see their teams in action again. The point has to be made though that it’s refreshing to see footballers making a stand to support their poorer brethren.  And, contrary to popular belief, not all footballers are multi millionaires.

The saga is over.  Harry Kewell has finally joined Melbourne Victory. It’s a big football story here and when the A-League season starts in October the hype surrounding Kewell will be huge.  It’s sure to guarantee increased crowds and generate interest in the league.   However, as a Brisbane Roar enthusiast, I can’t say I envy Melbourne Victory their new acquisition.  The finance involved will be astronomical for an Australian club and if, for whatever reason, the signing is a flop it’d mean a lot of money has been thrown away.  It would also discourage other overseas based Australian players from returning to play.  It’s much more substantial for Brisbane (Whose spending needs to be frugal) to invest money in building the football club. Long term stability is crucial to a club of Brisbane’s limited resources.  The luxurious distraction of a hyperbolic juggernaut can roll on elsewhere!

After the recent pandemonium over the machinations of FIFA we could be forgiven for believing that the games governing body spends it’s time carrying money around in carrier bags.  But they also organise the Word Cup, it couldn’t possibly take place without them.   Recently they carried out the draw for the qualifying stages on the 2014 World Cup.  Australia were drawn against Saudi Arabia, Oman and Thailand.   Sections of the Australian media analysed the possibilities and the Socceroos’s chances of reaching the next stage.  Surely the aforementioned analysis was carried out to be polite to forthcoming opponents.  Does anyone seriously believe Australia won’t get through?  With all respect to everyone involved they should ease through with the minimum of fuss.  On a completely different note it was surprising that so much English media seem to believe England’s passage to Brazil will be straight forward.  Poland Montenegro and Ukraine are good sides who can cause significant problems.  Hopefully the England manager (whoever it is at that point) won’t be as dismissive of opponents as the press have been.  

It was announced last week that Brazilian great Socrates is in intensive care in a Sao Paolo hospital.  Socrates was part of the magical Brazil team of 1982.  They played football from the Gods.  He initiated moves whilst surrounded by colourful brilliance.  Opposition sides were mesmerised by breathtaking skill and kaleidoscopic movement.  Poor defending led to their elimination by Italy, losing 3-2 in one of the most gripping encounters in football history.  I don’t doubt that had Brazil gone on to lift the trophy in 1982, that side would be as revered as their predecessors from twelve years before.  Socrates was something of a football bohemian.  He refused to play for the national team until the age of 25 so he could complete his studies to be a doctor. Since finishing playing in 1989 he has become a doctor of philosophy.  Get well soon Socrates.

Flaws, positives, finishing top and a costly burst of anger

February 8th, 2011 No comments

On Wednesday at Anfield we didn’t give ourselves enough of a chance to get something from the game, or to just make a game of it.  In the first half we contained them well but never looked remotely like scoring, or even putting the home side under a period of sustained pressure.   When the pinball free kick led to Liverpool taking the lead just after half time it was game over.  Fuller came on and looked lively but a side like Liverpool enjoying the Dalglish resurgence was never going to relinquish the lead they had patiently intelligently probed for.  Liverpool were far and away the better side but the point has to be made that we didn’t really set out to get at them.  Had we started out 442 instead of 451 we may still have lost but we’d be able to reflect on what could have been a cracking game.  These words from the site sum up our lack of attacking strategy…. “Stoke were pretty poor, and had a similar problem with a lack of support for Carew. He competed well with the Liverpool back three, winning six from 10 headers, but couldn’t do it all on his own. Stoke’s real area to exploit was in their own full-back position – with Liverpool playing no natural wingers, they had time on the ball and space in front of them – but too often they simply hit the ball long”  Quite.  Begovic made a stunning save in the first half for which he hasn’t received the credit he deserves.  That was amazing. Had a keeper from a more illustrious club made that save I don’t doubt it would have grabbed attention across the globe.

Our match against Sunderland was an emotional rollercoaster.  Amid the twists and turns and the ups and downs we were only ahead for the final 120 seconds of this rugged epic struggle.  Rain and a moody sky provided a suitable backdrop.  The most satisfying aspect of the game from our perspective is simply that we won, which does tend to nullify many of the flaws in our performance.  Nullified though they are now, it’s still worth reflecting on some of them.

Why do we never win a second ball?  When we attack and balls in the box run loose it’s rarely a Stoke player attacking the ball, for a side widely considered to be physical and combative this is a serious problem.  We struggled with  pace and movement on the break, they managed to thread balls past our central defenders far too easily.  Our players lack of movement…. Sunderland’s second goal came from a good run by Etherington which came to nothing, Jones was in front of him but didn’t make an incisive run to be picked out by Matty, whoever was at fault doesn’t matter, suffice to say it proved to be a costly shambles.  This led to an excellent opportunity wasted, at the point we could have been celebrating a 2-1 lead we were back to square one a goal behind.  Muntari received a yellow card yet we never pressurised him knowing he’d be wary of tackling, in fact, for a spell in the second half he was free to run the game in the holding role.  The main flaw is, predictable though it is to mention, we simply don’t keep the ball well enough.  Possession is 9/10 of the law.

The positives were that through dogged bloody minded resilience we grafted  and  toiled and eventually got the win we needed.  Tone deserves credit as his positive substitution changed the game in our favour.  Walters contribution was vital as he provided a crucial link between midfield and attack, thus enabling Pennant and Etherington to deliver crosses in the attacking third, great work by Tony Pulis.  Despite our reputation as filthy violent kickers, we committed fewer fouls than any other premier League team at the weekend.  The quality of set piece deliveries from Pennant overwhelmed and overpowered the Sunderland defence.   The deep bending ball that Huth scored the winner from was an absolute peach.  When we departed the rollercoaster we were 3 points better off.  For large parts of the game it was an unlikely 3 points but our fortitude proved fruitful.  33 down 7 to go!!

Whilst coming down from the high of our crash bang wallop of a game I watched the first half of the Newcastle v Arsenal match.  Arsenal were magnificent in that first half.  On form they play with a stylish majestic swagger combined with ruthless efficiency.  Such was their dominance the 4-0 lead they had at half time actually flattered Newcastle and the only question seemed to be whether they could get the two goals required to equal Man Utd’s goal difference.  The TV cameras picked out some of the Geordies leaving during the first half so depressing was their predicament, reflecting on the sale of Carroll could hardly have helped their mood either.  So Diaby’s 50th minute burst of anger was very very costly indeed.  Why at that stage, in a game that was seemingly won, Diaby couldn’t keep his hands to himself is anyone’s guess. From that point Newcastle staged a stirring comeback becoming the first team since the top flight changed it’s name to the Premier League to blow a four goal lead.  They did actually close the gap on Man Utd by a point following their result at Wolves but the events on Saturday could leave a deep scar in Arsenal’s psyche.  As the title race continues they will know they had their hands on two more precious points and blew it….. completely. 

After months Brisbane Roar finally secured the championship.   Melbourne Heart’s 1-1 draw with Central Coast gave Roar an unassailable lead at the summit.   That is part of the story but by no means the whole story.  As the regular season concludes this coming weekend, a finals series starts involving all clubs in the top five clubs, the winner of the competition being determined by the winner of a grand final on Saturday March 12th.   It’s long winded but during the last five years of stuttering mediocrity I longed for Suncorp Stadium to hose an A-League grand final in front of 52,000 on a summer evening.   Sadly, this city has been the recipient of  recent tragedies and ongoing trauma.  While sporting victory doesn’t stifle the agony many are feeling it would bring some much needed moments of happiness to some local lives.  The time is now. 

In the Cologne v Bayern Munich match Cologne had Novakovic clean through and Bayern’s Badstuber brought him down to blatantly deny a goalscoring opportunity.  Inexplicably, the ref awarded a yellow card.  It was such an amazingly clear red card it isn’t even  a subject for debate.  The conclusion from the tale is that England isn’t the only place where the bigger clubs are the beneficiaries of referee bias.

Cup fever, Australian agony,the window closes….maybe on Jose?

February 1st, 2011 No comments

It wasn’t a classic, but all the same, mission accomplished!  For the second year running we are through to the fifth round of the FA cup.  Our hopelessness in the competition has been genuine and legendary but it seems we are starting to change.  On Sunday it took some grinding and battling but in the end Huth’s header and Sorensen’s spot kick saving expertise saw us deservedly go through.  Not that the Wolverhampton public seem too concerned by their exit.  The lousy crowd of 11,967 was disappointing to say the least.  They may well have relegation avoidance on their mind, but all the same,  it was a poor showing.  I’d like to think that had it been a home tie we’d have had more interest than that. 

Whilst attempting to avoid  prematurely evaluating the quantity of poultry, the fifth round draw could have been much harder.  Brighton is a game we will understandably expect to win.  That was the good fortune we lacked three times last season!  If we can get through to the quarter final and receive another favourable draw we could soon hear the taste of  Wembley in our red and white nostrils.  But we are still Stoke in the FA Cup….. more likely we are a goal down to Brighton after ten minutes and laboriously struggle to an 80th minute equaliser then lose the replay on penalties.  That’ll teach us for allowing a rare streak of optimism to infiltrate our psyche!

The transfer window came and went.  For Stoke City it was a subdued affair.  Tony Pulis and Peter Coates made it clear that a deluge of new signings was unlikely and so it proved.  The main focus of our attention was the possible sale of Ricardo Fuller.  For various reasons players do well at some clubs but can struggle at others and for Stoke Fuller has been very good indeed. We’ve managed to keep hold of him which is a relief.  We could debate and consider the reasons for his near departure but the fact is we may never know the whole story.  There are so many factors (many financial) in why a player chooses to leave or remain at a club it’s too hard to speculate on.  Suffice to say it’s good news to keep him for at least another six months.  How Fuller feels himself at staying with us is another thing we may never know fully!  It’d be harsh if any Stokies wished Tuncay anything but best wishes on his move to Wolfsburg.  While his form was sometimes patchy he gave us some great memories.  As for another departure…..  in years to come we’ll reflect on the Gudjohnsen situation and wonder what that was all about.  An expensive and baffling little episode, and again, we may never know the full story about his time with us.   

The most damaging aspect of Gray and Keys comments about females in football is that, being a human being, Sian Massey will at some stage  make a mistake.  That mistake will receive excessive media scrutiny and put increased  pressure on her.  It could lead to some asserting that females don’t understand the offside law after all…. oblivious to the fact that plenty of male officials make errors.  The Sky boys club could have a lot to answer for.

The story of Stoke and Kris Commons sums up the progress we’ve made. Six years ago he left us and some of us were disappointed. But now, despite him being an international and  the prestige that comes with it, very few of us would want him back. This symbolises how far we’ve come.  A talented player, who is still only 27 now isn’t good enough for us.  His move to Celtic also symbolises how short of financial clout the Scottish League is.  For a club of Celtic’s size and stature to buy a player from the English Championship isn’t necessarily  a compliment to the player, it’s a sign of how Scottish clubs are having to make do and mend with little light at the end of the tunnel.

The final of the Asian Cup between Australia and Japan was how a cup final should be.  Neither side was paralysed by fear and both played attacking football, which might not seem to be the case for a game which ended 0-0 after 90 minutes.  They each created chances but couldn’t quite get the finish right,  Harry  Kewell squandering the best chance of all.  Japan’s late winner came from a technically excellent volley but you have to wonder why at such a crucial stage the Australian defence went walkabout.  So a 0-1 defeat for Australia but there are plenty of positives to be taken.  It’s all part of a learning curve and the experience of playing in an international final has a multitude of benefits.  In the same tournament in 2007 Lucas Neill arrogantly inexplicably made public an expectation of winning the tournament without losing a game.  That was based on nothing and when Japan put a poor Australian campaign out of it’s misery  by winning the quarter final on penalties justice was done.  Four years later Australia underrated nobody and did a professional job throughout.  Not quite having the armory to lift the trophy is frustrating but nothing to be too downcast about.  This campaign proved how much  the national side here has improved.    It’s also worth remembering that losing to a team of Japan’s stature is nothing to be ashamed of.  They have much more international experience and in the final perhaps it was that extra experience that made the difference.  From the local perspective it’s pleasing that some of the A-League players made the step up, Brisbane Roar’s Matty Mckay in particular… but I’m biased of course! 

It’s only February but there is little doubt that Real Madrid’s defeat at Osasuna was exceptionally good news for Barcelona.  There many points still to play for but it’s increasingly clear that  it’ll be the European Cup which determines whether or not Mourinho’s season is a success or failure.   Whether he stays at the Bernebau for a second season remains to be seen.  Mourinho has already been saying how much he misses working in England but who in the Premier League could realistically afford to employ him?  The only real possibility would be if Man City failed to reach 4th spot and the owners wield the oilstained axe.   But it speaks volumes for the stature of the self proclaimed special one that should he feel the blade on his neck in Madrid it’ll hardly dampen his employment prospects. 

One of the weekends bizarre football moments came in Germany where Arjen Robben clouted teammate Thomas Muller.  Here it is in installments!


September 15th, 2010 No comments

YEEAAHHSSSSS!!!!!!!!  We finally got off the mark.  Tuesday morning’s  victory against Villa was as welcome as it was dramatic.  In addition to the result, there were many positives to take from the game.  Despite fading, Wilson’s defence unlocking through ball for Jonesy suggests he could provide  the creativity we’ve been craving.  It was just frustrating that the chance was wasted.  After starting so strongly we paid a heavy price for failing to impose our dominance by way of a goal.  Downing’s header was classy BUT, the point has to be made the marking was slack.  To lose Huth all he had to do was take a step back.  From that point we had to scramble to get to half time only one goal behind.  We had an outrageous piece of luck when Young somehow missed the free header and we spent the last ten minutes of the half  being dismantled.  When we got the ball forward our forwards were too isolated to sustain possession and we were  just put under pressure again.  We regrouped at half time and our play was more structured at the start of the second half.  After  an hour it seemed Villa were content to sit on their lead and play the game out.  Our inability to create many chances qualified their approach BUT we are made of stern stuff these days and Matty produced that peach of a cross and Jonesy produced an even better header and we drew level.  That header was fantastic and more than makes up for the chance he’d wasted earlier in the match!  As the ball came across he had to jump backwards, it showed great agility to get the power in an accurate header like that.  At that stage we’d have been relatively satisfied with the draw but that grandstand finish was the stuff of football heaven!   And even more exciting than Evertons’s comeback two days before.  A great way to dig out a win and credit to our players for their tenacity.   When we win it’s well worth getting out of bed at 4.30 am!    You spend the day riddled with fatigue but blissfully so!     West Ham on Saturday night.   The early 9.45pm kick off.  I’ll be watching in the pub surrounded by Hammers.   It’d be marvellous to start the football weekend with another three points.   Come on Stoke!!  

Shortly before half time in the Real Madrid v Osasuna match, Osasuna forward Aranda was caught offside.  He kicked the ball away and was rightly yellow carded for his petulance.  As he walked back up the field Real Madrid’s Marcelo needlessly pushed Aranda in the back to provoke him, Marcello received no such card from the ref.  One can only conclude that England isn’t the only country where refs are frightened of the big clubs.  It’s amusing that Real Madrid have taken on the Mourinho mantra so quickly.  Playing out an uninspiring but comfortable 1-0 win is the Jose style!  Frog eyed Ozil’s pace proved decisive, his pace and ability to get behind the opposition line being the clinching factor.  The self proclaimed ‘Special one’ will be quietly satisfied.  Especially as Barcelona’s astonishing defeat gives them an early advantage.   

I’ve been going through some of my old football tapes and got to the 92/93 season and beyond and the way Eric Cantona  transformed Man Yoo is seriously impressive. There’s one goal in late 93 at Bramhall Lane where he sprints the length of the pitch and executes a ruthless finish. Colossus.  it’s an example of Fergusons brilliant motivation / man management skills. He blatantly allowed Cantona more freedom than the others. He knew that to prevent any aspect of him would be to suppress part of his football. It was all part of the same thing. Ryan Giggs says that they would plan a night out and right in front of the boss Existential Eric would ask him what pub they were meeting in. Cantona could do that knowing that unlike the others he’d never get a bollocking!  It was the purchase of Cantona that was the pivot for their era of domination and, like so many others, I wish with all my heart it had never happened but he really was a magnificent footballer.

The exclusion of Rooney from Man Utd’s starting line up on Saturday was a big surprise.   Alex Ferguson’s statement that he was protecting his striker from Evertonian abuse is hard to believe.  It’s six years since Rooney left Goodison Park and every time he’s returned he has been the target for vicious abuse.  The recent revelations give the bitterness new frisson but did Rooney need to be excluded?  Surely he’s old and ugly enough to handle the stick.  Would the level of abuse be any greater than Cantona used to receive at Elland Road?   Or what Gary Neville gets at Anfield?  Rooney would have expected it.  Not that his omission detracted from a brilliant game of football.  How did Everton dig a draw out?  With only two minutes remaining and the game seemingly drifting towards three points for Man utd the only question seemed to be whether the lead could be extended.  Now they will be opainfully aware that they are four points behind Chelsea with little sign of the West London sugar daddy’s plaything looking remotely like slipping up.  Man Utd now face their deadly rivals Liverpool although if Liverpool are as toothless as they were on Sunday at Birmingham they have little to worry about… with or without Rooney.   Why was there a mention of Bobby Zamora’s leg being broken deliberately?   That’s a ludicrous suggestion.  Karl Henry made a fair tackle.   An injury like that is horrible f0r any player  but  malicious accusations like those do nobody any good. 

It’s only mid September but it’s hard to imagine anyone but Chelsea winning the league…. or even mounting a substantial challenge for that matter.  The top two in the Bundesliga are Hoffenheim and Mainze.  Fourth are Hannover and Kaiserslautern are in fifth.  Assuming the traditional powerhouses finish in the top four spots, it’s refreshing that some  less renowned clubs can get a moment at the top table.  It would be great of one of the lesser known clubs could emulate Wolfsburg and last the pace at the top.  As it would be great if the Man utd Chelsea dopoly in England could be broken.  Fat chance. 

Finally, a word of appreciation for Tony Pulis.  Given the terrible circumstances I’m sure none of us would have blamed him for staying in the background against Aston Villa.  That he wanted to get on the touchline for the second half is an indication of his passion for football and Stoke City in particular.  It was touching to hear his name sung long and loud when he appeared.  Hopefully our win brought a bright moment in a traumatic day for him.