Average performance, good result, great signs for the future?
Most Potters were in unanimous agreement that a point away at West Ham, without three key players and on the back of three straight wins would be pleasing. Thankfully Stoke managed to claim that point, despite putting in an average performance unlikely to set many hearts alight. The most pleasing aspect of the result, however, is its demonstration of what awaits Stoke throughout the rest of this season, and potentially beyond.
First and foremost the game demonstrated a strength in depth that the side has not had during its’ years in the Premier League. Missing 4 star players (Shaqiri, Arnautovic, Butland and Johnson) as well as Geoff Cameron who is ranked as our 4th best player this season by WhoScored, Stoke managed to achieve a draw against last seasons’ 7th placed side. It was not just a pleasing result, as without these essential players, Stoke were the aggressors and, if being hyper critical, should have won the match. If Stoke are to be competitive in all competitions (especially if we can eventually reach Europe) then this quality throughout the entire squad will be essential.
Secondly the game went further to proving that we now have a settled defence, who the entire squad can rely upon. This is the first time since 2014 that Stoke have gone 6 games without conceding 2 or more goals in one particular game. Hughes has given a greater weighting to defensive focus in the recent months, and it seems to be a switch that is benefiting the side massively. Signing Lee Grant and Bruno Martins Indi has to be top of the urgent pile for the transfer department, and in doing so Stoke will ensure they have the solid defensive base to allow the attackers to flourish.
The third, and ultimately most important, sign for the future was the tactical switch made by Mark Hughes in the 70th minute. In bringing on Bojan and pushing back Allen, Hughes has perhaps shown his hand for his future intentions. Aside from the goal coming in that period Stoke dominated, with Stoke making 5 shots (3 on target) compared to West Ham’s 2 (0 on target). Hughes must find a way to include all of Bojan, Imbula and Allen in the side, as these 3 are the best central players in the side, and this appears to be a step in such a direction. Allen’s time at number 10 is over, it provided some important stability but ultimately the Welsh Pirlo is more suited to a deeper role. Further Bojan is, goals per game, the most prolific player in the side and for him to be wasted away on the bench was a travesty. Hughes himself has this morning alluded to the possibility of pairing Joe Allen and Bojan together sooner rather than later.
Finally, and somewhat briefly, the abundance of youth involvement in the first team is a great deal of relief. Shenton, Ngoy and Taylor all travelled to the capital, whilst Verlinden was given his second appearance on the bench (although we still await his introduction). But how can we talk about youth players without mentioning the Egyptian boy wonder? Ramadan gave another fantastic account of himself, with his physicality and work rate clearly visible for all to see. The first time Stoke have started a teenager in the Premier League, Ramadan is going to be one of our key players in future years.
The West Ham result may not have, quite rightly, turned many heads outside of Staffordshire, but those who know the club know that the good times are well and truly back.
Written by Tom Thrower
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