Match Review: Stoke 2-0 Watford
Stoke managed to secure their first double of the 2016/17 season at the first opportunity after beating Watford 2-0 at the bet365 Stadium on a cold Tuesday night. Ryan Shawcross volleyed his side into the lead at the end of an extremely uneventful first half and Peter Crouch tapped in from close range minutes into the second half. It was Stoke’s first win in six games and it sent them up to 11th in the Premier League, one point from 9th.
Mark Hughes once again surprised fans with some big name omissions to his starting eleven. He sent Xherdan Shaqiri and Ibrahim Afellay back to the bench following the 4-2 loss at Stamford Bridge and brought in Marko Arnautovic back from suspension and Jon Walters back from a slight injury. Stars such as Bojan and Giannelli Imbula remained among the substitutes, however Wilfried Bony and Ramadan Sobhi had both left for the African Cup of Nations. It was to be Lee Grant’s final game as part of the loan spell that he secured to the Potters from Derby County in the Summer.
There was very little to savour for either side in the first half as both teams suffered from lackadaisical play, constantly conceding possession to the other team and giving away free kicks: the two sides accumulated fourteen fouls between them in the first 45 minutes. The biggest chance for Stoke fell to Peter Crouch: a good Erik Pieters cross found the English beanpole at the back post and the resulting shot required a good reaction save from Watford ‘keeper Heurelho Gomes; the ricochet then dropped for Walters but he couldn’t react in time to divert the ball into the back of the Watford net. Watford managed to carve out a few opportunities of their own, mainly on the break and relying on their luck trying to break Stoke’s offside trap. The biggest chance for the Hornets came courtesy of Abdoulaye Doucoure on Stoke’s right wing: rather than go for goal himself he tried to pick out his teammate, Adlene Guedioura, in the middle; it turned out to be the wrong decision as Joe Allen stole in on the man wearing yellow and managed to hook the ball to safety just in time.
With fans bemoaning the prospect of a similarly dull second half, Stoke did manage to find the net just before the half time whistle: a Charlie Adam cross dropped beautifully for Shawcross’ feet and the big defender lashed a weak-footed volley graciously into the near post. The celebration that followed was a big release for the captain: not only was that his first Premier League goal since New Year’s Day 2015, Ryan had also come under scrutiny in recent weeks following the change of formation Stoke had been undergoing. You could tell he was relieved to have provided some evidence for his return to form and that he wanted the fans’ appreciation, deservedly so.
Watford almost managed to cancel out the skipper’s strike through a very early chance from Doucoure: the winger cut inside a backpedalling Mame Diouf and got a clean shot away: but Grant managed to get a firm palm on the ball and diverted it to safety. Following that chance, Stoke weren’t happy with their one goal lead and immediately looked to double it, and they found a way to do so: Charlie Adam sent in an incredibly teasing ball from deep across the penalty area and, following good anticipation, needed the simplest of finishes from Crouch to convert the opportunity. Having not scored in over 18 months until New Year’s Eve, the former England international now had two goals in his last two games: this one would turn out to be a little more positive than the one he scored just three days prior. From a Watford point of view: the ball probably should have been cleared by Seb Prodl: but the Potters didn’t care one jot as they had a comfortable margin over the visitors.
Watford didn’t lie down: Prodl had a couple of chances of his own down the other end: both headers. The first he managed to make clean contact with the ball twelve yards out with Grant probably beaten but it bounced around the wrong side of the post for the Austrian. The second was from a much closer range and any kind of decent contact would have put his side back into the game, but that contact didn’t come and the ball was glanced wide. For the home side: Ibi Afellay was introduced and almost scored a spectacular goal with one of his first touches: the ball dropped nicely for the Dutchman and he sent a furious volley at goal from over 25 yards out: sadly for all involved the ball whistled just past the post with Gomes well, well beaten. Towards the end of the game, Stoke had a chance to see Watford off for good: Jon Walters beat his marker for pace, raced onto a Crouch flicked header and found himself one-on-one with Gomes. The Irishman produced a good strike but Gomes was equal to it and managed to keep the scoreline respectable for the away side.
Results-wise, 2017 couldn’t have started better for Stoke following the win and it’s the first step in the right direction to forgetting a forgettable 2016. Granted, Stoke were not at their best and they beat a side which was even worse but the Potters have come unstuck in similar positions before and conceded a two goal lead in their last home game, against Leicester. Mark Hughes’ decision to put his faith in the old guard paid off this time and it sends out a message to some of the more high profile members of the Stoke squad that they may need to up their game should they want to be part of the team. The next opportunity for those left out will surely come in Stoke’s first FA Cup game of the season at home to Wolves. We’ve seen that the cup competitions can springboard a player into the limelight following a decent performance: with Lee Grant being a mainstay since his EFL Cup debut against Hull. Let’s hope that Stoke manage to see themselves into the next round of the tournament and, with a couple of league wins thrown into the mix as well, Stoke can kickstart 2017 with a bang.
Happy New Year? We certainly think so!
Lee Grant: 7 – quiet for the most part but reliable when required.
Glen Johnson: 6 – struggled to synergise with his wing-back this time.
Ryan Shawcross: 8 – a much welcome return to form and a goal to boot.
Bruno Martins Indi: 7 – solid as ever. Could do with tying his deal up this month.
Mame Diouf: 6 – workrate ever present but luck wasn’t by his side.
Joe Allen: 7 – saved Stoke on a couple of occasions and tidy in possession.
Charlie Adam: 7 – two great assists to supplement a decent performance.
Erik Pieters: 7 – Continuing to grow into his new role, partnered well with Marko.
Marko Arnautovic: 7 – a very positive influence, the difference in the game at times.
Jon Walters: 6 – didn’t have the magic touch but good pressing.
Peter Crouch: 7 – second goal in as many games. Life in the old dog yet.
Ibrahim Afellay (25 mins): 7 – forced Stoke to remain positive whilst seeing out the match.
Glenn Whelan (10 mins): 6 – steadied the ship in the dying embers.
Written by Ben Rowley
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