No points, but no surrender from Stoke

Posted by James Whittaker

Adam Johnson puts Sunderland in front against Stoke.GettyImagesAdam Johnson puts Sunderland in front against Stoke.

Sunderland moved to within one point of Stoke City in the Premier League as they beat the Potters 1-0 at the Stadium of Light, despite struggling against the ten men of their opponents.

Stoke did everything but score in a match that saw yet more individual errors impact the game as much as the referee, who bought Sunderland's theatrics and evoked the ire of Stoke manager Mark Hughes.

Whilst the result was of the upmost importance, the performance should hold equal, if not more, footing for a manager looking for signs that his side can arrest their current slump. In that respect, despite a slow start in which the hosts took the lead, Stoke absolutely bossed the game from that moment onwards. Even when the Potters were reduced to ten men they pulled Sunderland all over the pitch, creating chance after chance as they pinned them back; I'd say it was the best attacking football Stoke have played under Hughes.

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That might sound fanciful given that no goals were scored, but the significance of the side's use of possession in the final third shouldn't be underestimated. The movement and understanding of the players was beyond anything fans have seen to date and the introduction of a meaningful attacking option down the right side meant that Sunderland couldn't isolate any lone threat.

I've long since said that Jon Walters' inclusion was one of convenience given the options available to Hughes and that once a better suited player for the system was bought he would be dropped. That proved to be the case last night, with Peter Odemwingie making his debut for the club. He had a very impressive game and provided the kind of threat fans have not seen for some time; intelligence on the ball, strength in possession, pace to run onto passes and technique to beat his man.

The frustration of Walters' failure to beat a man was made obvious as Odemwingie did exactly that; not just once but sometimes twice in the same move. He was involved in much of the meaningful build up witnessed on the night and could well have scored following a cheeky nutmeg and shot, as well as with his quick thinking follow up to Ryan Shawcross' diving header.

That one player better suited to Hughes' system can make such an impact and will only strengthen the manager's resolve to bring in more of the same across the pitch, but whether or not that will happen to the extent needed before the transfer window closes remains to be seen. Players continue to be linked but given the little time left the chances of adding to the ranks at this late stage are slim. I still think that at least one more signing will be made, another player in the Hughes mould which would buoy the manager further.

Whilst the result on the night was disappointing it was less so than the reaction of some fans calling for the manager's head in the aftermath, despite seeing such a committed and attacking display. Many of Hughes' detractors still hanker for former manager Tony Pulis and despite the utter misery of away games over the last five years under his stewardship somehow expect Hughes to perform miracles and do what Pulis wasn't able to.

I'm guessing that the people who are wise enough to see the bigger picture will pay little attention to the minority calling for such drastic change or excessive spending so the club can "prove their commitment". Everyone at the club is working towards a sustainable future and a more appropriate business model for a club of Stoke's size. Spending huge sums on players who don't fit that vision to appease the fans is not only reckless, but it's entirely counter-productive and seeks only to replicate the mess the club are currently clearing up.

Money is available for players who fit that vision and whilst they are difficult to find, they are out there somewhere. This fan is willing to give those tasked with the strategy of securing the club's future both time and patience to do just that.

After a performance like the one at Sunderland, it's clear that there are more than enough positives to take into a set of fixtures where the supporters (the key is in the word) will play a huge part.


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