After The Whistle
Well they love to make my job easier don’t they? Today Stoke once again took the lead in a BPL game and once again they let it slip, not just to a draw but instead to a defeat. Over the first few weeks of After the Whistle I criticised Stoke for being inconsistent, I called for performances like those against the Manchester clubs from earlier in the season to be more frequent. Well now I can’t complain about consistency, because we’ve fallen into the trap of being consistently poor. There’s no two ways about it, we have been poor for the entirety of the second half of the season and our league form in representative of that. 1 win in our last 9 games, is that the form of a team who is made up of players who believe they should be playing European football? Not in my eyes, so let’s get this started.
Issue 1: Killing off a game
I brought this up last week and it annoys me that I have to talk about it again, but once again our team has failed to display the desire and finishing acumen to kill off a game when we take the lead.
I don’t have the exact figures but I know that about three or four weeks ago we overtook Manchester City as the team who have dropped the most points from winning positions. Given that since then we have dropped two points against Sunderland and Crystal Palace (A team who have only one once in 2016 prior to today) each, I can feel assured that we are top of that unwelcome table.
There were two golden opportunities in this game for us that weren’t taken, one would have put us in front and the other would have pulled us level with a few minutes to go. If you had those chances who would you want to put on the end of the ball? For many it would be Shaqiri and Arnautovic. Well they were the players who had those chances and we failed to score either. However I’m a little more forgiving in regards to Shaqiri’s chance because I think that it was more of a good save than it was a bad shot.
This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed in the summer, I don’t know how, but someone who gets paid to find solutions for these issues needs to do so.
Issue 2: Putting a foot in
I hope that if you have the chance to watch Palace’s first goal that you do so, because it is a brilliant indication of what is wrong with our team at times. There was a moment of nativity from Whelan where he decided not to put a tackle in on Bolasie, which in turn led to the winger tearing through our defence like they weren’t even there. It’s one of the most embarrassing goals I’ve seen scored against us this season, it really did show up the quality of our holding midfielders and defence when they aren’t fully concentrating.
For me, whilst I wouldn’t sell him, a younger replacement is needed for Whelan. I feel that he lacks the energy of some holding midfielders in the league and whilst I don’t want two holding midfielders bombing forwards all the time, it would be nice to have a CDM who uses that youthful energy to bomb back into defence and cover the centre backs.
I don’t even feel that we need to go into the transfer market to find the solution to this problem. A few weeks back I had the pleasure of watching the U21’s play at home against Swansea. Although the team isn’t perfect (Not by a long way) there are some shining stars. One of those is Eddy Lecygne, the French holding midfielder. Imagine a cross-breed between Bardsley and Whelan and that is how this guy plays, it’s beautiful to watch and I really think he could be a force in the BPL next season.
Issue 3: Mark Hughes
Now I’m not going to be one of the people to say that Hughes needs to be fired, I don’t think we’re that far down the rabbit hole yet. However I do want to point out that given our poor start to the season, had this run of form come shortly after that one then Hughes would find himself in serious trouble and probably under pressure for his role.
It is instead Hughes’ substitutions and line up that I want to bring into question. I don’t think that given last weeks display anyone was worried about the repeat appearance of Peter Crouch or Charlie Adam, however it became very apparent early on in the game that Crouch was back to his ineffective ways.
It was the continued absence of Bojan however that left many fans (On Twitter) furious. I made my feelings about Imbula very clear in last week’s addition of After the Whistle and whilst I wasn’t surprised that the Imbula experiment continued this week, I was disappointed. What made the situation even worse however was Hughes’ use of substitutions. When pace was direly needed in our attack Hughes opted to take off Shaqiri and leave on the ineffectual Peter Crouch, and whilst this could have been excused for the right substitutions, he instead brought on Ireland (Instead of Bojan) and Walters (Instead of Diouf).
Hughes’ excuse for taking off Charlie Adam was that he thought the referee was going to send him off, and having had this checked by James Whittaker, he wasn’t even on a yellow. What was Hughes thinking?
And before people say that bringing on Walters for Shaqiri was the right move, I would like to point out that despite being on the pitch for 30 minutes Walters made two passes, TWO.
Issue 4: Imbula
I had some interesting discussions with people last week who disagreed with my stance on Imbula, whilst we couldn’t come to any kind of agreement we decided to go our separate ways like grown ups. However I am not afraid to once again put Imbula on the list of issues from this week.
I have made it very clear that I felt he should have been dropped for Bojan in the first place, but he was given his chance once again and he should have taken it. Now I recognise that he does have moments of brilliance, I can’t deny that. But they are far too few and far between. For every moment he has going forward that makes him look really good, he’ll have three moments “defending” that picture him as someone who can’t even do the basics.
During the first half even Charlie Adam was criticising his work rate, asking the bench to try and speak to him (With the commentators at Radio Stoke swiftly picking out that the fact Imbula can barely speak English is clearly affecting his ability to gel with team mates on the pitch).
I know he is young and like I said last week once he has a full pre season with our club under his belt then I am sure that he will mature into a fantastic player. But as of right now he has not be playing well enough to merit a starting place. When a simple pass to Arnautovic on his left is all that’s needed to get himself out of trouble he tries to run into three defenders and they break away, when he needs to track back and put some effort in he remains in position and waits for the ball to come to him.
He will come good eventually, I believe that, but not right now.
Issue 5: Taking Responsibility
I’ve already mentioned that Hughes brought the referee into his decision to take off Charlie Adam, well the blame stick didn’t stop there. Our manager blamed the referee of swinging the game away from us today. That simply isn’t good enough from our manager who seems incapable of pointing out when we haven’t been good enough.
Sure he’ll state that our defending wasn’t up to scratch leading up to their first goal, but what about the remaining 44 minutes of the second half? We weren’t good enough going forward, we weren’t good enough at finishing the ball off, we weren’t good enough in midfield and we weren’t good enough at defending.
It will be a special day when Hughes owns up to his own tactics being the downfall of our team and it’ll be an even better day when he couples that with the admission that the team just didn’t perform like they should for any significant length of time.
I don’t want Hughes out, but I sure as hell want him to change his attitude, change his tactics and take responsibility.
What do the fans say?
Okay time for something a little different, I’m going to start (Bit late in the season now but hey ho) taking the opinions of fans from Twitter (Both good and bad) and putting them into this section. So enjoy and see if you made it.
@stokie_stace “Bojan, Imbula, Shaq will have full preseasons and will hit the ground running next season. Jack will be back. Johnson will. Ryan will be fit”
@northstokie “Hughes blaming the referee is getting old – take some responsibility man”
@cain_rosscain “why have our strong points in past season’s become our week points ie defence set pieces agression determination”
@DannyPenfold “Hughes’ tactics are growing old, just like his granny haircut.”
@stokierick “shocking second half, with piss poor subs again! Crouch was never going work today was crying out for Diouf & Bojan”
Sorry that I could only find one positive tweet from my timeline this week, but what else did you expect given that result?
Written by Mitch Adams
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