Stoke bring the noise back to Britannia

Posted by James Whittaker

Stephen IrelandPA PhotosStoke City's Stephen Ireland celebrates the second.

Stoke City turned a corner on and off the pitch on Saturday as they justifiably came away with all three points following a thrilling 3-2 win over Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea at a raucous Britannia Stadium.

The result was huge, not least because it is the first time the Potters have beaten the Blues in 38 years (before I was even born!). The win also gave everyone a much needed boost following a disappointing result against Cardiff, taking the side to a much more comfortable 12th in the league.

For me though, it wasn’t really about the result. After Peter Crouch’s equaliser, there was the return of hope which filtered quickly through the stands and manifested itself in the kind of noise missing since those early days following promotion. The din after Stephen Ireland’s perfectly executed finish was the re-emergence of the 'Bearpit' atmosphere Stoke are known for, the atmosphere the Chelsea fans had been baiting a response from minutes earlier. But it was the response to conceding an equaliser just two minutes later that cemented that, throwing the lead away again this season would ordinarily be met with a groan but there were no groans, there was a roar and a passion from the fans for the players to get back in front.

It wasn’t quite the roar heard at the Man City game in the first season back in the top flight but it was one that visibly lifted the players, pushing them on to run that little bit harder and go into challenges with that little bit more passion. With each instance of that passion the crowd reacted, with each crowd reaction, the players did it again; it was the return of the symbiotic relationship that carried the side through so many difficult games.

It’s almost impossible to pick fault with the performance, of course there were individual errors, especially in the first half, but for the most part when one man missed a tackle, there was a second one there to pick up the pieces or to throw his body in front of the resulting shot. The side was more than the sum of its parts and it’s that attitude and application both on and off the pitch that will see the side succeed in this most difficult of transitional seasons.

The half-time teamtalk obviously did its trick but there was one other instance that helped the side more than any other, the removal of the woeful Charlie Adam and the introduction of Ireland. Adam picked up where he left off midweek, ambling around the pitch throwing his weight about; it was his “tackle” that gave Chelsea a freekick from which they worked their opener. His second contribution was to throw his arm across Eden Hazard’s face, earning Chelsea another freekick which resulted in another attempt on goal. Thankfully his inability to tackle led to him injuring himself seeing the return of Man of the Match Ireland.

Ireland’s introduction to the side saw him not necessarily do anything outstanding but just play that number ten role as it should be. You could have tied a piece of string around his and Crouch’s wrists such was their close proximity, the support he lent the big man allowed the side to be a threat on the break, something Adam has struggled to do. His positional discipline also saw him pick up the right areas of the pitch, stopping John Obi Mikel from looking up and starting moves off, the whole balance of the side just changed for the better when he came on.

Jon Walters more than played his part too giving the Chelsea left back aerial grief all afternoon and whilst he didn’t have the pace to get past him, his industry and the options made available to him meant he was an important player on the day. To have four frontline players working so well together meant that Stoke were always a threat and having the option of Oussama Assaidi on the bench, who was very unlucky not to start, is a great option to have.

It was a memorable day and there will be more of them, the same as there will be more poor games, the key is for both the players and the fans to be patient. The manager and his side will not be defined by one great win or a woeful loss, it’s a long old season that will see plenty of each. There is one certainty though: if the side can keep up that level of passion and commitment on the pitch, and the fans keep their voices off it, then the future really does look bright. It just goes to show that united strength really is stronger.

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