Stoke saved at the death

Posted by James Whittaker

Stephen IrelandGettyImagesStephen Ireland slots home the second for Stoke.

Stoke City's transformation on the road continued as they scored three goals away from home for only the second time in the Premier League. Unfortunately this new found joy in the final third was again academic as the Potters continue to throw away any lead they manage to muster. The game finished 3-3 against Swansea but the scoreline barely tells the tale of a game Stoke should have put to bed long before they let their hosts get back in front.

The players' inability to see a game out and maintain their advantage will have manager Mark Hughes frustrated, but he isn't blameless either. His insistence on playing a longer game made the players visibly nervous when faced with simple passing and doing so only served to invite pressure as the side dropped deeper and deeper, which was compounded further by some more baffling decisions from the bench.

The main taking points are as follows:

Geoff Cameron - Cameron has had a couple of games now where he's been found wanting against two sides who move the ball quickly down the sides. He failed with three of his tackles on the day, all of which were in the right-back area but again his work further up the field in the middle third was much better - winning all manner of aerial duels, interceptions and take-ons. It's starting to become apparent that in the unfamiliar right-back role he's getting unfairly exposed and only highlights the need for tailor made reinforcements in January.

Wilson Palacios - Stoke's mysterious Honduran was given the nod in the middle and I was not looking forward to another flat footed statue impersonation. How wrong I was. He played on the balls of his feet and despite spending most of the game just in front of the back four, was much more mobile and agile than the fans are used to seeing. Only Erik Pieters won more tackles and he won all of his aerial challenges as well as making a number of crucial interceptions and clearances before being replaced on 70 minutes. His main challenge now is to maintain that level of performance up and last the full 90. Stoke certainly missed him when he went off. Man of the Match.

Marko Arnautovic - It was another quiet game for the maverick Austrian, though whilst he saw little to no action moving forward he worked hard to snuff out Swansea breaking down the left. His composure on the ball allowed the side to maintain possession just that little bit longer. He was replaced by the spent force that is Matthew Etherington and he absence was notable. Stoke's former go-to man Etherington is anything but these days and spends more time on the radio than the ball. The fact that the side concede so many after he leaves the field is interesting but perhaps says just as much about who comes on as it does who goes off.

Jon Walters - a special word for the often maligned Walters who scored on his 100th consecutive appearance for the Potters. To be honest, like most fans I'd imagine, when he wriggled his way through I'd already told myself he was going to miss. He seemed to hesitate but seemingly was waiting for the keeper to make his move before coolly slotting in off the post. It was a calm and assured finish from a player who worked hard to protect his ailing full-back on the day. Unfortunately he offered little else going forward due to a lack of pace, two or three times a ball was put neatly into the space in front of him but the defender would regain the lost yards well in advance of Walters to nullify any threat.

Swansea's conduct - For the most part I thought the rookie referee did well but he had to be on his mettle as Swansea tried it on all over the pitch and pushed their luck right to the limits. They could quite easily have finished the game with nine men. Then there was the play acting by Chico and the referee did well to punish his pony-tailed am-dram as he threw himself to the ground holding his face... again.

Whilst the penalty could be deemed somewhat fortuitous, it as karma for those various indiscretions as well as the constant time wasting and kicking the ball away. Wayne Routledge's face on Stoke's equaliser was certainly consolation for a desperately disappointing afternoon having done so well to get a two goal lead.

Spending a few hours in the bottom three wasn't particularly pleasant but the league is such that a win really does transform the fortunes of a side and everyone will be hoping that comes against Sunderland, a game which now takes on even more significance.


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