Match Review: Sorry Stoke Slump Once More

Stoke’s dismal April form has slouched it’s way into May as the Potters lost 2-1 to Crystal Palace in London this afternoon. Stoke looked to be back to winning ways after Charlie Adam’s goal midway through the first half, but a sub-standard second half saw Dwight Gayle score two goals to secure his club’s mathematical safety and extend Stoke’s winless run to nine games.

Since impressing Hughes sufficiently last week against Sunderland, the Stoke team was unchanged, with Marko Arnautovic passing his fitness test and Bojan remaining on the bench. Peter Crouch and Adam did enough last week to encourage Hughes to reward them with another stint away from the bench.

Palace started the more offensive team in the first half: it only took two minutes for Whelan to bring down Yannick Bolasie just outside the penalty area and collect a yellow card for his troubles. The resulting free kick was hit straight at Xherdan Shaqiri, the deflection off him nearly diverting past Jakob Haugaard into the net, luckily for Stoke it spun wide. Minutes later, Phil Bardsley brought down Gayle, who then appealed for a penalty; however not only did the referee let play continue, the contact was outside the area regardless. Palace kept charging at Stoke who had no choice but to sit deep and absorb the pressure, it was enough to restrict the Eagles enough to not trouble Haugaard too much.

After a nervous quarter of an hour, Stoke embraced the game a bit more and created some chances of their own: the first being a free header for Crouch from a Stoke corner, but it was too weak to trouble Wayne Hennessey in the Palace goal and he saved comfortably. Shortly afterwards, Crouch jinked past the Palace midfield and found Arnautovic who sent Shaqiri clean through on goal, but the Swiss winger couldn’t squeeze his shot around an onrushing Hennessey. It wasn’t longer after it should have been 1-0 to Stoke that it was; Imbula emerged from midfield to find Arnautovic on the edge of the area, the Austrian goal-machine provided assister for Charlie Adam with a delicious through ball into the danger area, Adam obliged with a perfect finish from a tight angle into the far corner of the net: his first goal of the season was scored in the 27th minute of this game.

Stoke then opted to let the first half drag out into a eventless affair: with the only talking points being Gayle falling too easily in the area under pressure from Bardsley to convince the referee to give a penalty, Papa Souare having a good half-chance late on to equalise but sliced nastily over, and Yohan Cabaye getting a little bit less than friendly with Adam after a couple of close encounters. Although Palace started brightly, the first half belonged to a decent Stoke side who went into halftime ahead, but there was the sense that the game wasn’t over yet and a goal either for team was on the cards.

The second half begun with Joe Ledley coming on for the home side in place of Cabaye, after his hot head and bruised ribs convinced Alan Pardew to substitute the Frenchman; meanwhile Bolasie was moved to the left side of the Palace attack. The latter change worked instantly for Palace as they pulled a goal back 70 seconds into the second half: Bolasie barraged his way past the whole of the Stoke team and teed up Gayle, who didn’t need to be asked twice to bury his shot past Haugaard. There was an argument that Whelan could have dealt with the onrushing Bolasie, but his early yellow card came back to haunt his mind and the thought better of it. Game on again.

The early goal didn’t poke Stoke back into life, in fact Palace were looking for another goal to take the lead. Before a couple of decent chances for the home side, Ledley was injured and was forced to make way for Jordon Mutch after just 10 minutes of him coming on. Palace then came knocking on the door again and Puncheon collected a bouncing ball inside the Stoke penalty area but missed a golden chance to put his team ahead; Bolasie then crossed for Connor Wickham moments later who had an equally good opportunity to score. It was at this time that Hughes decided to ring the changes: Jon Walters and Stephen Ireland emerged from the bench to replace Shaqiri and the goalscorer Adam.

However, in the 66th minute, Ryan Shawcross needlessly gave away a foul in a good area for Palace; Gayle stepped up to take the free kick and, whilst slipping over, pumped his shot past Haugaard (who many thought should have done better) into the Stoke net for the away side to be back to losing ways again. Stoke created very few chances in the way of a reply to that goal for the rest of the game. Bojan came on for Whelan in a last ditch attempt from Hughes, but it wasn’t enough for Stoke to take the game back again. Erik Pieters (a man who’s scored one goal in eight years of football) blazed a shot over from forty yards and Walters spurned away a feeble shot after a useful Crouch flick on. But the most golden chance of them all fell to the player Stoke fans would want the chance to fall to most: Ireland perfectly slotted through Arnautovic who had a wonderful chance to become Stoke’s highest Premier League goal scorer in a single campaign; but, after rounding the Palace goalkeeper, amazingly spooned his shot over an empty Crystal Palace net. And that, as they say, was that.

Not only was it another loss for Stoke City in recent games; it was, definitely in the second half, a gutless performance again and allows the ‘on the beach’ theme swarming around the club to continue. This latest defeat also created substantial discontent among Stoke fans on social media towards the manager, who has been untouched since he joined the club before today. This reaction could be brewed from raw disappointment during and straight after the game, but the Potters do seem a far cry away from the team that was keeping clean sheets for fun, slaying Premier League giants and was within one penalty shootout’s difference to another cup final at Wembley in 2015.

The final game of the season beckons as Stoke face West Ham at the Britannia next week. Who knows what Hughes will try and do to give his club’s fans and players a lift, however it seems like both of these groups are already looking to next season for some joy. After such a promising start, could Stoke really end their season with their manager’s future in the dark?

Here’s to next week: let’s try and have a party regardless.

Written by Ben Rowley

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