Episode V: ‘#HughesIN’ Strikes Back
It is a dark time for Mark Hughes fans. Despite destroying the initial Hughes Out campaign, their troops have driven pro-Hughes fans from the bet365 and have pursued them all across Staffordshire. Evading the dreaded too much passing backwards argument, a group of freedom fighters have established a new argument in favour of retaining Sparky. The evil Hughes Out campaigners are obsessed with using last year’s results, and have sent out thousands of remote tweets into the far reaches of the internet. . .
Okay now for the serious part of the article, it is misleading to suggest that last season’s bad run of form should come into the consideration for the current predicament. The main reason for this is the change in the squad, especially throughout the sides’ spine. Three totally new signings (Martins Indi, Allen and Bony) along with the return of Given and Shawcross from injury, have led to a completely new spine for the side, relatively to the one that ended last season. This suggests that there is no need to be overly concerned with our opening performances and they can be put down to the traditionally slow start that we have.
In fact injuries, poor refereeing and general bad luck have prevented us making any forward progress early in the season.
To lose Butland prior to the season starting was something we all knew would cost us. The graphic used on last night’s MNF showed just how much better Stoke are with Butland than without him, and the sooner England’s number 1 can return the better. Both Shaqiri and Johnson had succumbed to injury before the second match of the season, meaning our entire right flank was made up of second (or worse) choice players. Hopefully Johnsons return to first team training puts him in contention for a return against Palace, as we all know he is an essential player to any of our good performances. Johnsons return could be the first in a long string of players putting injury problems behind them, giving Sparky the opportunity to select a side without the handicap of injuries.
Again refereeing can be pointed at as a major factor in deciding the Tottenham result. At 1-0 Wanyama blocked the run of Imbula, a decision that Andy Hinchcliffe suggested that the ref got the decision totally wrong. Pochettino saw the danger, brought off Wanyama and within a minute Spurs were 2-0 up. This, much like the decision at Everton, is the kind of decision that totally changes a game and these decisions have not gone in favour of Stoke this season. The refereeing issue has provided yet another uphill battle this season, and is one there is very little Stoke can do to change.
Our luck with the fixture computer did not go very far. Getting a newly promoted club away from home on the first day of the season, followed by the champions elect, followed by a strong looking Everton side and finished off with the Premier League’s best defence from last season. One thing is certain, no side would have traded their opening four fixtures with Stoke, as the latter 3 teams all still remain undefeated and in the top 5. Further to this luck has not ran with us on match day. Displayed again in the Spurs match as Shawcross poked a shot narrowly wide, at 1-0 down a goal here would certainly have changed the course of the fixture. It seems to naive and simple to put down a poor opening four fixtures to luck, but it is something Stoke could certainly do with running with them for once.
There is clearly more limiting the performances of the Potters than some poor managerial decisions. I am not denying that there has not been poor decisions (*cough* where’s Bojan *cough*), instead I’m suggesting that now is not the time to be calling for Mark Hughes’ head. Sparky needs to be given time to let his squad settle, and in doing so he will find his own best XI. It is worth bearing in mind that we are only a point behind where we were last season. If the new additions are utilised to their maximum potential, then this really could be a special season for Stoke.
Written by Tom Thrower
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