After The Whistle: Middlesbrough 1-1 Stoke

And breathe…. The Premier League is back, I’m back and After the Whistle is back… Let’s do this!

Yesterday nearly 3,000 Stoke fans made the 3-hour journey up to the North East to see our opening day fixture against newly promoted Middlesborough. While it wasn’t exactly a footballing masterclass or a game that any of us will be talking about in a few months time, it was still a classic Stoke game. Going behind early on, playing poor for one-half and playing well for the second, a weak team effort with a few standout performances who carried us through the game, it couldn’t be more like Stoke right? Well, no matter the performance, good or bad, worldie or typical Stoke, I will be here every week to do some nit-picking and point out 5 (Give or take) areas that Stoke could have improved on.

So let’s get moaning…

1.) Our Defence

Okay, it’s one thing that Johnson was out injured for the first game of the season, but I know I’m not alone in saying that my worry levels increased drastically once we found out that Butland had injured himself in training a mere day before our first match.

With that injury, it meant that our defence for the first game of the season would be exactly the same as that of our last 6 or 7 games of last season. That in of itself is a worrying thought as we ended the season (As Wilson would say) dreadfully, last year.

Whilst Wollscheid was easily the stand out in our defence, clearing the ball, being calm when the ball was at his feet and always being in a position to take the pressure off a teammate should they need it, the rest of our defence just didn’t match up. Shawcross was constantly at risk of receiving a second yellow and Bardsley was a constant weak spot on our right-hand side. Boro were clearly expecting this as well as the majority of their attacks came down our right-hand side, highlighting the frailties of Bardsley and the poor tracking back from Shaqiri.

Pieters was a weird one as although during the game I felt that he was extremely poor, the stats (As pointed out by TBPTV’s own Tom Thrower) seem to indicate otherwise. So we’ll just call him an anomaly.

Either way, a new CB and cover for the full back positions still seem to be crucially needed in this transfer window. Whether we will get anyone in though is another question.

2.) Did we have a striker?

I like Diouf, I really do, I think he is the best striker we currently have in our squad, however, I’m beginning to think the rest of our team don’t feel that way. Our midfield is great, no one can deny that, but as soon as we reach the final third we seem to forget that we have a striker. I can’t remember Diouf touching the ball in a meaningful way, with all our attacks coming through Shaqiri, Bojan and Arnie.

This could be the fault of Diouf himself, it may be that he just never gets into the right positions and our midfield is left having to look elsewhere for an outlet in the final third. Or, it could that Hughes has instructed our players to play around Diouf, using our out and out striker as a distraction…maybe. Either way, it will be interesting to see what happens if we don’t sign a new striker in this window, because if yesterday’s performance (Even in the second half) is anything to go by then scoring goals is once again going to be a weakness of ours.

3.) Civil War

I want to focus for a second on the Stoke fans themselves now. Giannelli Imbula is one of the best footballers to ever grace a Stoke shirt during our time in the Prem, does he have a perfect game every week? No, of course he doesn’t. But he always impacts in a positive way, without fail. He may lose the ball a few times (Three times yesterday… three), but his drives out of midfield and into attacking positions more than make up for it. His movement is incredibly fluid and his ability to find a way through players is second to none.

For some reason, however, some Stoke fans are determined for him to be hated. The first thing I heard when getting back onto a coach after the game was someone slating Imbula, saying that he had an awful game. What more do you want from the player? He isn’t a goal scorer, and being a CM he is going to lose the ball during the course of a game, he is human after all.

Stoke fans need to realise the level of quality that we would be missing without Imbula, and quick, because the amount of stick he is getting already is beyond ridiculous. God help anyone coming into Stoke if they cost more than Imbula did and don’t score 50+ goals in their first season.

4.) Is Shaqiri a winger?

I’m going to struggle to write this one because I have defended Shaqiri being used as a winger on more than one occasion. But after yesterday I’m beginning to see why so many people are calling out for him to be used as a CAM, sitting in behind Diouf. His movement and size would indicate that he is, in fact, a RW, but he just doesn’t seem to have that drive to want to take people on, or the strength to do so.

Shaqiri is a great player, he may have had a poor first half, but he bounced back in the second half and made a real difference to the game. Maybe if he was played in the CAM role once or twice it would give us a better indicator of where he should play for Stoke. His passes are sublime and instead of having to cut in to get to a passing position, if he was already there, you could argue that we might see a marked improvement in the speed with which we move the ball in the final third.

Plus, who would have thought that our first goal of the season would be from a quality set-piece? Given that we only scored one set-piece goal last season (And it was our last goal at that). So hats off to Shaqiri for that one because beating the goalie at his own post is no easy task.

5.) There isn’t one

With this being the first game of the season, away at a newly promoted team, I am more than happy with a draw. So there’s no fifth negative this week, we played well in the second half and it made up for our first half performance. So enjoy this little reprieve, because I’m sure once Man City beat us 4-1 again I’ll be right back in here with a fifth.

So enjoy the rest of the football and be sure to keep checking back to The Bear Pit TV for more quality content throughout the week and I will see you all back here for the next edition of After the Whistle next weekend.

Written by Mitch Adams

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