Bojan’s late header rescues Stoke from defeat in a game that should have been over before the 2nd half begun. Stoke to a man were excellent for the majority of the game but once again fell to their individual errors which ultimately cost them 3 points. Rotherham’s home form continues to impress thus far this season with all their points this season won at the New York Stadium.
Stoke who made 7 changes from their loss to Forest midweek were dominant in the first half, enjoying long periods of possession and creating plenty of oppourtunities. It was a busy half for Marek Rodak and the Rotherham defence. Benik Afobe and Semi Ajayi had a hell of a battle all evening, with the Rotherham defender coming out on top more often than not, he was a deserved man of the match and is exactly what Stoke could do with in the heart of defence based on this performance.
It’s Carabao cup time again and an all championship tie at the city ground awaits for Gary Rowett’s potters. Stoke will be looking for a positive result after another shock home defeat at the weekend to the hands of Tony Mowbray’s Blackburn Rovers. Forest meanwhile will fancy their chances against a defence that is currently tied at second worse in the division for goals conceded with only bottom of the table Preston conceding more than Stoke and Hull City respectively. Aitor Kranka’s side were fortunate to come away with 3 points at the weekend in a dull game against our next opponents Rotherham but were able to do what Stoke haven’t and that’s not play well but get the result.
We go into Saturday afternoon at the Hawthorns in a completely different state to this time last week, looking for our third win on the bounce and Saido Berahino looking for back to back goals which he most certainly deserves after a strong start to the year.
I dream of Saido scoring a last minute winner before shushing the crowd who will boo him from first whistle to last and finally getting his own redemption. But this game is far more important than our contingent of former West Brom players getting one over on a former team, momentum is needed after a mixed start to the season and potentially easier games than this coming up.
After a difficult start to the season against teams expecting to be challenging at the top end of the table, a visit from newly promoted Wigan has become a must win as we look to get the promotion ball rolling at last. On the face of it, this is by far the easiest game of the season so far and in my opinion, a far better matchup for us tactically. That being said, some of the arrogance that crept in before the season started needs to be avoided when we play the easier games on paper.
Wigan have had a very mixed start to the season with a win, a draw and two losses with both of the defeats coming away from home at Aston Villa and Rotherham. So far this season they have favoured a 4-2-3-1 formation, switching to a 4-5-1 when defending to stay compact and hard to play through, with pace coming from the wingers and fullbacks which is where the danger lies as we repeatedly fail to cope with pace.
After the Brentford match last week I started the post-match piece with ‘What is happening at Stoke?’ and I still don’t have the answer to that question. Preston was the worst game of the season so far for a variety of reasons, not all of them related to the performance on the day. You could sense the nerves amongst the fans before kick off and it only took a few minutes for the atmosphere in the away end to become toxic, boos ringing out after every stray pass or ball back to Butland.
The feel around the club just isn’t right at the moment and it’s clear from Gary Rowett’s post match interviews that the ever popular and reliable duo of Scholes and Cartwright have failed to pull their weight yet again, leaving him with a squad of players that he doesn’t know what to do with. At the time of writing this, we have 10 central midfielders in the first team squad with no fewer than 290 full international caps between them and Darren Fletcher is the only one of them even slightly ‘capable’ of playing as a sitting midfielder, an issue that is unlikely to be addressed any time soon.
There hasn’t been too much cause for optimism over the past two years or so but excitement is building ahead of a stern test at Deepdale this weekend, but a Saturday night fixture in front of the Sky cameras and over 3,000 fans in a sold out away end is the perfect way to kickstart our stuttering season.
Morale is low after poor displays against Leeds and Brentford, with the performance versus the latter drawing boos from portions of the crowd at the Betannia, unwarranted in my opinion. There needs to be a reality for some fans who have so far failed to realise that the standard of teams in the division is not far off the bottom end of the Premier League and we have a target on our backs as the team that everyone wants to beat. I’m sorry to say that this weekend will be no different as we face yet another contender for the end of season play offs.
What is happening at Stoke? Years and managers have been and gone but the same issues seem to persist and on this seasons showings so far, they show no signs of going away. Before any criticism starts though, Brentford are perhaps the most underrated team in the division and a draw although not ideal is far from a disaster.
The first two games have seen us face sides who use intricate patterns when attacking, finding space between the lines and are very adept at playing out from the back, three things we just haven’t managed to achieve yet. Being outplayed by these teams at the start of the season should be seen as a positive though as it highlights our shortcomings off the ball.
Last week was a less than ideal start to the season at Leeds but we have the chance to set the record straight as Brentford visit the Betannia for the first home game of the season. Last weekend can be seen as somewhat of a learning curve and a shocking introduction to the division, although many of us knew that it would not be quite as easy as the bookies made out.
For anyone who has seen the Oscar-winning Moneyball starring Brad Pitt, Brentford have adopted the same way of scouting and acquiring players that has seen so much success in baseball, and they’re starting to reap the rewards. Owner and fan Matthew Benham made his money through gambling and daringly decided that the way to match teams with greater spending power was to look for the things that nobody else could see, players deemed not good enough by the Premier League big boys or from abroad.
With the beginning of the season just around the corner, the reality of being back in the second tier is really kicking in, and there is no better way to start than facing the team we should least aspire to be like. There can be no doubt that the Championship is one of the hardest leagues to predict in the world and has been like quicksand to so many relegated Premier League clubs, although few have struggled as much as Leeds who were sucked straight in and have struggled to escape since.
Champions League semi-finalists in 2001 and relegated from the Premier League in 2004, their decline over the past two decades has included a three season spell in League One, numerous financial difficulties and no fewer than 19 different managers. Although none of those carry the reputation of the current boss, Marcelo Bielsa.
Over the years, Stoke have struggled to deliver on youth prospects, with the most notable graduates being the Tony Pulis favourites Carl Dickinson and Andy Wilkinson. The lack of homegrown players was partly due to vying with clubs in an extremely busy catchment area for the brightest talents and partly due to operating out of a Portakabin donated by Aston Villa to the old Michelin training ground. The biggest hindrance however was the aforementioned Mr Pulis, who’s fascination with 30 year old Sunderland centre backs and insistence that the academy was an unnecessary use of resources and should be closed down held back the production of future generations of Stoke players.
However, the complete redevelopment of the Clayton Wood training facilities to a truly elite standard and a larger emphasis being placed on self-sufficiency by the owners responsible for online gambling powerhouse bet365 have given fresh hope to youngsters hoping to make it in the famous red and white stripes.