It’s Not All Doom & Gloom
It’s not all doom and gloom after a dreadful defensive display at Anfield, many fans feel that our season is over and some have decided to reflect on it as a negative one (you know who you are). But once the anger of a disheartening performance settles down this season can be judged as a continuation of the fantastic work done by Mark Hughes and the Club as a whole.
It is worth bearing in mind that some of the best performances at Anfield came from players settling into the team in their first season. Shaqiri’s dead ball delivery caused problems all game, and Imbula was back to his usual ways of bombing runs through the centre of the pitch. The Premier League is notoriously difficult to settle into, and our two record signings are yet to complete a full season. Both have struggled with the inconsistency associated with new signings in the league, but after a full pre-season both should be ready for a push to Europe and Silverware next season.
Obviously the most significant achievement is the superb league cup run. Despite not being able to make the final it was our first appearance in semi’s since our victory in 1972, and our first win at Anfield in many years. The cup run yielded some memorable performances whether it being the emergence of Afellay’s true quality in the quarter final against Sheffield Wednesday or Diouf’s heroic extra time performance at right back against Chelsea. The cup run was a clear statement to Hughes’ intention to turn Stoke into a silverware winning side, and hopefully next year will be the time he achieves just that.
Another step made by the club this season is the vast improvement of away form, leaving the club on the precipice of our greatest ever away performances. In a season on inconsistency our solid away performances have been a shining beacon, and the change from away results under Pulis is an example of the changes Hughes has made. Gone are the days where the best result we could hope for away from the Britannia, the swashbuckling counter attack has been prominent away from home and has been responsible for this upturn in form. Should Hughes be able to continue this form and find a more guaranteed way of winning matches at home, there can be no doubt that next season will be a successful one.
Our main problem this season has not been a lack of quality or poor tactics, but the worst injury crisis I have seen face the club in my lifetime. We have had arguably the worst out of all teams in the league, and it has been a constant presence throughout the year. No team in a similar league position to Stoke began the season missing their two best players from the season before (Bojan still recovering from his ACL tear and Shawcross out after his back operation). The importance of a fully fit dressing room is one that teams at the top of the table, such as Leicester have proved. Obviously I am not claiming we would be winning the league without injuries, but games where Hughes has been able to select his perfect XI have been few and far between. And again this problem was prominent in the Liverpool match as, and I’m sure many will agree, at least 2 and maybe even all 4 of the goals conceded would not have beaten Jack Butland.
A potential positive to take from the Liverpool defeat is that the pressure is off and we will never have a more perfect opportunity to blood some of our more experienced u21 squad players. The two most likely to feature are former Barcelona starlet Moha Choulay and local lad Ollie Shenton, who have both been named in match day first team squads. But there could also be appearances for the prolific Dom Telford and wonder kid Thibaud Verlinden, who chose Stoke over many world class clubs last summer. The progression of academy players into the first team has been the only element that the club is yet to find since Hughes appointment 3 seasons ago. And with very little to play for in the league it could be an excellent time for this transition to begin.
Finally it was announced, in a somewhat vague way, that the scoreboard corner will be filled in 2017, another indication of the progress made in recent years. This will be a major stepping stone, taking capacity over 30,000. There has been some suggestion that this is a relatively futile increase, however with the club keeping a keen eye on Celtics test with safe standing, an introduction of a similar system could give another boost to capacity.
So after all the doom and gloom of a disappointing performance passes, negative comments should be viewed as rash and over critical. This is not to suggest that there will not be pressure on Hughes to secure a European place next year, but with further investment this summer and some well-deserved luck in the injury department, it will be a task that is achievable and Sparky is the best man for it.
Written by Tom Thrower
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