Match Review: Watford 0-1 Stoke
Stoke City returned to winning ways at Vicarage Road on Sunday lunchtime as they fought their way to a solid 1-0 victory against Watford. It turned out to be a comfortable victory in the end for the Potters thanks to a Heurelho Gomes own goal, despite almost half the starting XI missing the previous game against Bournemouth. The game itself was a stop-start affair thanks to the 38 fouls that were committed in the match, with an inevitable sending off Watford’s Miguel Britos.
Stoke had a number of enforced changes to make in this match: both Phil Bardsley and Ryan Shawcross were victims of injury and Joe Allen was suspended after he was awarded his fifth yellow card of the season last time out. In came Glen Johnson – his first start for Stoke since getting injured prior to his England call-up – Marc Muniesa and Giannelli Imbula – both suffering from a lack of game time in recent weeks. As well as these changes, Hughes decided to experiment further with the exclusion of Wilfried Bony – with only two goals all season – and Bojan – after a disappointing display in the last game – and the inclusion of Jonathan Walters and Mame Diouf. Hughes also admitted post-match that he had switched up his formation to the 3-5-2 that featured heavily throughout pre season; however post match analysis suggests that play didn’t deviate too far from the more familiar 4-2-3-1 formation.
It was Stoke who controlled the lion’s share of possession early on and, with it, the better of the goalscoring opportunities. The first chances for the away side were bundled into a flurry of shots in quick succession: Xherdan Shaqiri whipped in a cross which dropped to Diouf when the ball settled. The Senegalese international fired at goal with a spectacular overhead kick that was blocked, the ball then dropped to Bruno Martins Indi who hammered a shot straight at Gomes, Shaqiri himself collected the ball and attempted a shot-cum-cross that was cleared as far as Glen Johnson who smacked the ball from 20 yards out. All shots as unsuccessful as each other and the ball was eventually away to safety.
Stoke were enjoying a spell of possession when Daryl Janmaat intercepted a weak ball across the back four, he charged in towards Lee Grant’s goal and opted to shoot from the edge of the area, however the superhero on loan from Derby dealt with the shot very comfortably. Down the other end, Mame Diouf broke away on the right wing a fired in a near-fatal cross across the six-yard box: it required a hefty punch from Gomes to steer the path of the ball away from a lurking Jon Walters. Shortly, after a lovely, patient passing move, Imbula decided to try his luck from 25 yards: his curling shot whistled past the far post and had Gomes stranded.
It was Watford’s turn to try and be a threat again, with in-form Etienne Capoue hurling a 25 yard strike of his own from long range but, despite the effort being on target, Lee Grant dived low and saved comfortably once again. Stoke replied with another cross from Shaqiri, he found Marko Arnautovic and the ball was flicked onto the head of Walters, the Irishman almost chipping the Watford goalkeeper with his effort but the Brazilian was there to make the save. Finally the goal that Stoke deserved came: Shaqiri whipped in a ball towards the far post and Charlie Adam was the one to leap highest and shoot. The header hit the foot of the post and rebounded onto the Watford goalkeeper and Heurelho Gomes scored an own goal and gave Stoke the lead going half time.
The second half followed on neatly from the first and the first big chance fell Stoke’s way: Imbula slipped through Arnautovic to initiate a counter-attack, the Austrian rolled a teasing ball across to an incoming Walters once again, but he couldn’t quite convert the chance on an open goal at it rolled harmlessly away. This was the start of a handful of chances for Stoke, including a powerful off-target header from Walters courtesy of a good Pieters cross from a free kick. This period was followed by a scrappy one, plenty of fouls from both sides, particularly Watford, meant that the game had no chance to flow and only half chances were presented to either side. These included a direct Shaqiri free kick from a dangerous area that hit the Watford wall and another long range volley from Janmaat at the other end. The game’s final goal-scare for Watford wasn’t even a close one: a bicycle kick from Ighalo looped to Okaka who could only fire wide from a tight angle. It was after this that the inevitable dismissal occurred: Shaqiri jinked his way past Britos and, having already been booked for another foul on the Swiss international, received his marching orders with another yellow card. Stoke weren’t done however: deep into added time, Shaqiri performed a wondrous flip-flap past Roberto Pereyra and cut inside, his ball in eventually reached Imbula who switched to his left foot and sent in another curling effort that almost dipped under that bar once more. But that was it, Stoke had secured their second Premier League away win of the season, and deserved it too.
The absence of a recognised defensive midfielder for the Potters allowed for a little more creativity and composure in the middle of the park: both Imbula and Adam kept the ball well and distributed effectively, the former claiming the Man of the Match award for his sensational return to the Stoke side. The defence also performed admirably, considering that this defensive combination nor formation had been tested in the league. Bruno Martins Indi was the standout of a terrific defense and barely handed Watford a sniff. So, what next? Well Stoke face Burnley at the bet365 Stadium in which the home side will be looking to record a similar result, with Burnley not being in the best of form and some tricky fixtures coming up during the hectic Winter schedule. Stoke will feel confident having performed well against a side away from home who sit above them in the league table and, although they haven’t scored themselves in over 200 minutes of football, the chances in those minutes have come thick and fast and have been good ones at that. Let’s hope Stoke can pick up some points and extra confidence before they face the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool in a couple of weeks time. For now, just reflect in another good win and our under-the-radar climb up the Premier League Table.
But more than anything, Stoke should be thankful Gomes is up to his old tricks again. Cheers buddy.
Lee Grant: 7 – clean sheet with a couple of comfortable saves.
Glen Johnson: 7 – less to do in a more defensive role than usual, still quality.
Bruno Martins Indi: 8 – this guy’s due a bad game soon, surely?
Marc Muniesa: 7 – complimented Bruno well on his return to the side.
Erik Pieters: 7 – good in defense and improved offensively too.
Charlie Adam: 7 – the one to thank for the goal, recovered from the Bournemouth game.
Giannelli Imbula: 8 – superb return, profited well from an extended exile.
Mame Diouf: 7 – workrate exceptional, contribution valuable.
Xherdan Shaqiri; 7 – very tidy with lashings of brilliance
Marko Arnautovic: 6 – unusually quiet, but still played a part.
Jon Walters: 6 – would have had at least one goal on another day.
Peter Crouch (10 mins): 6 – did what was required to see out the match.
Written by Ben Rowley
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