Match Review: Stoke 0-2 Wolverhampton Wanderers
Stoke City crashed out of the FA Cup at the first opportunity due to a 2-0 loss to Wolverhampton Wanderers at the bet365 Stadium. A pathetic first half from Stoke gave the opportunity for Wolves to takes the lead through Helder Costa and, despite a second half fight, a Matt Doherty free kick took the game from out of the Potters’ reach. The Wolves’ ‘keeper, Carl Ikeme, was outstanding during the second half and kept his side in the game with his dazzling performance; however there’s no argument that, with the side Mark Hughes fielded, you would expect a higher level of performance from those donning red and white.
Hughes reverted back to a four-man defence following the departure of Mame Diouf to the African Cup of Nations, the remaining members of the back line kept their places. Joe Allen, Charlie Adam and Jonathan Walters were chosen to be rested, leaving space for Xherdan Shaqiri, Giannelli Imbula, Ibrahim Afellay and Bojan to be recalled to the starting eleven. The latter has been calling for his manager to give him more game time if he wants Bojan to stay at the club. This was a chance to stake his claim for the next few fixtures with injuries and international duty continuing to take it’s toll on the squad.
Given the amount of flair that the Stoke team possessed, moments of quality were at its rarest and loose passes, slow decision making and a lack of movement was abundant throughout the team. The best of Stoke’s chances all fell to Peter Crouch and were stemmed from the team crossing the ball into the box for the big man to get on the end of. On two occasions, Crouch was inches away from connecting with some delicious balls which would have at least troubled the Wolves ‘keeper; but one chance in particular did see the Englishman connect with a cross, but somehow the resulting shot skewed harmlessly over the bar.
Wolves had the best of the chances: on two occasions Jon Dadi Bodvarsson skinned Erik Pieters on the right wing and put himself clean through on goal, the Wolves man sent both of his strikes just wide of Lee Grant’s far post and sent out clear warning signs to Stoke that Wolves were here to play. Finally, Wolves got their goal: Costa picked up the ball on the right wing, cut inside and fired a sizzling shot into the back of the net at Grant’s unmanned near post. It was coming and deserved for Wolves and their fans were rewarded for their unwavering support throughout the first half. For Stoke, it was proof of just how naive they had been.
In an attempt to save the match, Mark Hughes hauled both Imbula and Bojan off and introduced Joe Allen and Charlie Adam, and the team produced slightly better football as a result. The Scotsman sent a looping ball into the area, Crouch knocked the ball down for Shaqiri who was bundled down inside the penalty area from behind. Bizarrely, the referee decided to award a free kick right on the edge of the area when a penalty should have been clearly given. The resulting chance went begging as the Swiss smacked the ball into the wall.
Stoke did have plenty of chances to win the game, however all of them were denied by a fabulous Carl Ikeme in between the Wolves sticks. A stinging drive from Marko Arnautovic was palmed away at the ‘keeper’s near post, Ibi Afellay had a piledriver from 30 yards tipped away from heading into the top corner, Crouch had a low effort from 12 yards expertly thrusted away and Joe Allen also had a long ranger from 25 yards acrobatically stopped from flying into the goal at the far post. Wolves rode their luck and had a chance of their own to seal the deal when Bruno Martins Indi floored an onrushing man in gold on the counter attack. Doherty blasted the resulting free kick around the wall and swerved the ball past Grant into the other side of the net, right in front of the adoring Wolves fans as it was almost guaranteed that they had slain a Premier League giant. They had a final chance to make the fixture embarrassing for Stoke, but Lee Grant managed to keep out a chance Wolves had one-on-one with the Stoke stopper.
Firstly, Wolves’ players were great, rode their luck well and deserved to progress through to the next round with their very vocal, passionate support that they brought with them. However, from a Stoke perspective, it’s an embarrassment for a team with so much quality and experience at the highest level not to even properly compete, during the first half, with a much changed mid-table Championship team. The players and manager appeared to be naive in their approach and big changes need to be made should Stoke want to class this season as a success. Now that the Potters are out of both cup competitions, all they have left is the league position and preparing for future seasons with the players that they have and potential incomings too. Mark Hughes is under the most amount of pressure he’s ever been, even more so that at the start of the season, and needs to prove to the fans and the club’s hierarchy that he’s still deserving of holding the reigns of this currently unsteady ship. It appears from the outside that there may be problems off the pitch as well as on it, it’s up to the manager to try and fix all of these; otherwise, it could cost him his job.
Although there is one final point I’d like to make: right now, Stoke City Football Club need their fans. Understandably, the atmosphere in the ground and on social media has been dull and almost poisonous. When the team are not exciting us as fans and producing embarrassing results, it’s hard to express our love for the team. But we have as much as a job to do as the people more strongly connected with the club do because of the extreme knock on effect that the support (or lack of it) can have on the performances. Unwarranted and impractical grudges against individuals should be expressed in a measured way, if at all. Confidence in players should be given if we want players to have confidence in themselves. There’s every right for constructive criticism to be given, however any kind of insensitive abuse is unnecessary and just as embarrassing. Let’s become one of the major building blocks on the road to recovery from this disappointing period and help the club push on to, what can still be, a decent campaign.
It’s time for change. But there’s more than one route to success.
Lee Grant: 5 – hard to criticise but not outstanding.
Glen Johnson: 4 – looked out of sorts following a stint at centre back.
Ryan Shawcross: 4 – did little to blunt the Wolves’ attack.
Bruno Martins Indi: 4 – uncharacteristic mistakes were made.
Erik Pieters: 4 – not present when required.
Ibrahim Afellay: 6 – best Stokie on the pitch, doesn’t say much.
Giannelli Imbula: 4 – decent intent, little output.
Xherdan Shaqiri: 4 – posed little threat to the opposition.
Bojan: 4 – didn’t take his chance, could well be his last game for Stoke.
Marko Arnautovic: 5 – a little more effective than others but still very lackadaisical.
Peter Crouch: 4 – missed far too many chances.
Joe Allen (45 mins): 5 – attempted to steady a very shaky midfield.
Charlie Adam (45 mins): 5 – tried to be positive but not clinical enough.
Julien Ngoy (20 mins): 5 – positive despite coming into a very tough match.
Written by Ben Rowley
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