Do. Not. Panic.
I feel some Stoke fans have gone into a serious state of worry, seeing as we have not completed one transfer and, unfortunately, today were at the end of a 3-0 second half thumping. But it is essential that we remember that preseason is no way an indicator of things to come.
The match began with the Potters lining up in an unusual 5-4-1. Wilson, Wollscheid and Muniesa played in the centre of defence with Butland behind and Johnson and Pieters at wing back. The midfield was made up of the deeper sitting Adam and Lecygne, who had Imbula ahead of them and Bojan ahead of him. Joselu rounded up the formation as the lone striker. Ultimately the formation was not hugely successful as both Johnson and Pieters seemed to struggle to get into advanced positions and this left us very short of width in attack.
The first half was not a very eventful one. Burton settled into the game quicker and had the larger share of attacking play but struggled to create anything of note and Butland had little to do other than collect stray crosses that were floated into the box. Stoke meanwhile passed the ball from centre back to centre back to centre mid to goalkeeper to centre back to full back to… You know how it goes. Bojan was coming so deep that at times he was level with the two outside centre backs, as previously mentioned the formation did not suit the side, and they struggled to create any substantial play. However minutes before the break Joselu broke free of the defence and slotted the ball home, only to be called offside. The highlight prior to the break had to be the appearance of two cult legends in Mama Sidibe and Dionotan Texiera, both eagerly welcomed by the fans.
The second half started with changes as Haugaard replaced Butland and Bardsley came on for Wilson, with Johnson shifting to centre back. Unfortunately a problem that plagued the potters last season has not been dealt with, and that is the Danish goalkeepers complete lack of composure. A relatively simple cross was fizzed into the box, Haugaard dropped it straight to the feet of Burton’s new signing Chris O’Grady and the experienced striker buried the ball into the back of the net.
From this point Stoke’s tempo of play increased a great deal and the squad started to get back into the swing of quick passing football. The ball was worked down the right channel and Bardsley found Imbula in the centre of the box only for the record signing to sky the ball from 10 yards out. Minutes later Burton attacked and again it was the new signing O’Grady slotting a header past the Dane, a chance that certainly looked like our number 1 could have dealt with.
Next a flood of substitutes followed and all senior players who had begun the match eventually made their way to the bench. However Hughes stuck to his rigid system which ended with Bardsley playing RCB and both Choulay/Moha and Dom Telford playing as wing backs. This underlines the statements made by Sparky post game, this match was to give the players game time and as such some were played out of position. The youngsters controlled the game but once again couldn’t fashion any clear opportunities, although N’Goy went down in the box from a stiff tackle which some refs would award a penalty for. Yet Burton once again broke free swiftly moving the ball forward to slot home the 3rd, summarising a disappointing day for the squad and travelling fans.
All is not over though, preseason is a time for increasing fitness levels, cementing playing styles and getting some much needed game time into the legs of players. If we look at the game as a whole we achieved those 3 things. Fitness was increased with players getting a good run out, Hughes experimented with what was available to him and showed that we may struggle with the shape we played in today and finally all players who travelled (short of Bachmann who I’m certain will soon) played a part in the match, with all senior players getting at least 45 minutes.
Further to this we had an excellent performance shine out in the sea of average. Eddy Lecygne starred, and was the only player to complete the entire 90 minutes. The defensive midfielder was dominant in midfield, he made countless interceptions and tackles, and once he had won the ball back was quick to distribute. His tireless performance saw him sprinting from the 1st to 90th minute, he certainly has provided Hughes with a suggestion he is deserving of more game time. And finally for the fans who booed upon the blowing of the final whistle. You booed a selection of young adults (teenagers and early 20’s). Thank you so much for being a shining beacon of the support they can look forward to in their future careers. If you are already booing in our first preseason match in July, it may be best for you to reconsider any future attendance at matches. I’m not saying fans aren’t allowed to be disappointed and angry, but this should remain outside of the stands, we have a duty to support the players and doing so will only lead to better performances.
Roll on the first day of the season.
Written by Tom Thrower
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