A poor performance but a point gained

Posted by James Whittaker

Michael Regan/Getty ImagesStoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic is congratulated by his Southampton counterpart Artur Boruc following Stoke's 1-1 draw with Saints.

It's fair to suggest that the weather played more of a part than the play of either side as Stoke and Southampton battled the elements to draw 1-1 in the wind tunnel that is the Britannia Stadium.

- Report: Stoke 1-1 Southampton

Saturday's game was always going to be a tough one; Southampton are the form side in the division and have a mean defence, letting in only three goals all season, the second best in Europe behind AC Roma. While Stoke haven't exactly set the Britannia on fire, they had a decent enough record of their own at the back, only conceding two at home all season. The stage was set then for a goalless draw you'd have thought, but that notion was put firmly to bed as a gust of wind helped Asmir Begovic claim the fourth fastest goal in Premier league history. Typical of the Bosnian, he was reluctant to celebrate, shaking his head in disbelief and empathy at his opposite number, a classy reaction given the enormity of what just happened.

That was the head start Stoke needed and I really thought they would push on from there to win the game, but Southampton came back into it, and deservedly so. Stoke just weren't at the races again and the number of misplaced passes was infuriating in all areas of the pitch. So many were guilty of losing the ball on the rare occasions it found itself on the hallowed turf, sadly for the rest of the time it seemed a long ball up to Peter Crouch was the preferred tactic. I had predicted that we would see more long balls played given the pressure the midfield would be under from Southampton's pressing game. This would be no bad thing given the number of times the midfield had been caught in possession this season, but at times it felt excessive, especially when other options were available and the player was under no pressure.

There was simply too much left to chance by playing so many long balls and it was clear early on that the conditions were in no way conducive to that kind of tactic. In the first half the balls went flying over Crouch's head with the wind behind them and in the second half they got held up on the halfway line meaning he had to come short to get them with no-one running in behind. It got all too predictable for me and I didn't feel like Stoke were in control at any point of the game and that's the first time I have said that this season. It was Stoke's first home game under Hughes where they didn't achieve the majority of the possession, they made almost half the passes of their opponents and for the second game running the most used pass combination was Begovic to Crouch.

I think it was also quite clear that Marko Arnautovic is more than aware of the burden on his shoulders as being key to Stoke's attacking game. There's no doubt he is an exceptionally talented player but his eagerness to impress, both in starting attacks and showing his skills off meant he got caught between a rock and a hard place in that sense. His delivery on the day was awful and while I appreciate that the conditions didn't help, Southampton didn't suffer the same fate; though that may have been due to the fact Stoke seemed intent on hitting the front post with every corner.

Another player who didn't have the best of games was Geoff Cameron. It's fair to say Cameron had been missed but he won't be too happy with his game over on the right. In the game against Norwich, rightly lauded as Stoke's worst performance this season, he had an 89% passing accuracy; against Southampton that all but halved to 45%. His tackling was much better though, coming away with the ball on every attempt. I still see Cameron as a centre midfielder; he made most of his tackles in the middle and final third and also managed four successful "take-ons", more than any of his team mates, up the pitch where a midfielder would be as the game moved forward.

On paper, a point against the side sitting fifth in the league is a good result, but much like I have, Hughes will be picking the performance apart as he prepares the side for this mini run of more "winnable" games in the next month. No doubt he will be hoping to keep the side out of the bottom three until he gets the opportunity to bring in some much needed reinforcements once the transfer window opens in January. Given the huge job on his hands, that's all this season was ever going to be in truth and in that respect, for me, he remains on track.

Vis Unita Fortior


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