Stoke drew 1-1 to Brighton at the bet365 Stadium on Saturday afternoon. It was a game described as the biggest since the Potters’ promotion from a Stoke point of view and tensions were running high before and throughout the match. Both sides came away with a point each but it’s not enough for Stoke to drag themselves out of the Premier League relegation zone. Time is running out for Paul Lambert and his squad to leapfrog their way out of trouble and it’s fair to say that it’s going to be an uphill battle from here.
The talking point of course will be the missed penalty. Stoke’s number eleven, Jesé, controversially won the spot kick and demonstrated that he deserved to take it. However, Charlie Adam picked up the ball almost immediately after Bobby Madley put the whistle to his lips and marched to the white spot in front of his target. Jesé put up a furious protest having to be restrained away from Adam and clearly put pressure on the latter. Whether the pressure got to him or not, Charlie missed that penalty as the clocked ticked past ninety minutes and his team’s chance to escape the drop zone flashed away as quickly as the Stoke fans’ smiles.
The blame from the terraces seems to be equally divided towards both the Spaniard and the Scot. It’s fair to argue that Jesé was childish to question someone who has already scored plenty of penalties for Stoke over the years. Despite that, Adam cannot escape that his talk was not backed up by his walk and he may well have cost Stoke a vital couple of points. Lambert refused to blame either player for the consequences that followed the events. There has to be cause for concern that there wasn’t any authority over the decision making, perhaps things may have ended differently.
Having said all of that, did Stoke truly deserve to win the game? I’d argue no. Certainly it was a game that they needed to win but it’s very rare that a win comes minus a good performance. Lambert’s expressed how well his team are responding to his practices and that he doesn’t see how Stoke will go down. The harsh reality is that we’re not picking up enough points to stay in the Premier League, at this rate, and the player’s efforts will be in vain. Particularly so with imminent games threatening to be more of a challenge than the opposition that was faced today.
That’s not to say that the game wasn’t without its star performers. Xherdan Shaqiri was the obvious man of the match: scoring the equaliser with his side’s first shot on target after more than sixty minutes and being the true driving force for Stoke in the match. Jack Butland did nothing to harm is reputation and produced a couple of truly excellent stops to keep Stoke in the game. New boy Badou Ndiaye displayed a wonderful show of athleticism and all-round prowess before his stamina ran dry. This Stoke side really does have a wide range of talent and, in theory, they have enough to beat the drop.
It’s a shame that some of the players excelling aren’t being backed up by their teammates. Our forward line simply isn’t deadly enough. Stoke hardly tested Matt Ryan in the Brighton goal. Whether that’s down to our lack of movement from our forward players or the Seagull’s solid defending is debatable; but something needs to change in the coming games. It feels terrible to point the finger, but Darren Fletcher has looked extremely uncomfortable for the majority of the season and alarmingly so in the past couple of games. It’s nothing against his personal character but it’s not fair on him or the club for him to be out there wearing that shirt while he’s clearly suffering.
More than that though, we don’t quite feel like a complete eleven. It’s obvious that Stoke have improved over the last four games: the stats will speak for themselves. Although, the team looks disjointed when in possession and the fluidity isn’t at the level required to pull off the pressing game the new manager is enforcing. The team isn’t taking enough risks and we’re punishing ourselves for it. It’s understandable that it takes time to implement a new system, especiialy when the previous regime left us with an unfit, despondent squad of players. However, we simply don’t have time.
We have eleven Premier League games left this season. If nothing changes, they’re likely to be our last in this division. We described this mini-period of six games as a favourable opening run for Paul Lambert – we’ve taken five points from four of those games with Leicester away and Southampton at home next up. Beyond that, we play Manchester City, Everton, Arsenal, Spurs as the next four fixtures. It would probably take a shock result to take any points from those games. We had the opportunity to take the points and the confidence we needed over the last couple of weeks. We’ve not done so, we don’t really look like doing so and we’re going to have to up our game once again if we are to claim our place in the top flight for the eleventh successive season.
Had we won today, we’d have looked in a much more comfortable position in terms of position and mindset. It could have quite easily happened, in the end it all came down to one kick. Now we’ve got two weeks before our game at the King Power stadium and it leaves ample time for Lambert to further inject his philosophy into this capable group of players. Above all, we need wins. We can’t be relying on others to perform badly against us, we can’t rely on other teams to begin losing and we certainly can’t rely on certain individuals to hand us the points on a plate. The team needs to pull together and save this club from and truly terrible fate.
I feel like I achieved little in this blog post. I didn’t explain anything that we didn’t know before, I didn’t really express my opinion and I certainly haven’t tried to hook any of you onto a certain agenda. The fact is: I really don’t know what’s going to happen over the next eleven games. There’s undoubtedly enough potential for this squad to pull off what’s required to reinstate our Premier League status and there’s thirty-three points available – more than we currently have! I’m just so concerned that this ending isn’t going to be a happy one, we don’t just need a fairytale, we need a miracle. As fans, there’s nothing we can do on the pitch. All we can do is keep on keeping on. Our support during Lambert’s reign has been exemplary and the players always recognise that. Win lose or draw.
Eleven games left. Embrace every one like it’s our last.
Written by Ben Rowley
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