Two points dropped

Posted by James Whittaker

Mikele Leigertwood celebratesEmpicsStoke City's Robert Huth and Sunderland's Steven Fletcher battle for the ball

Stoke did little to warm up the freezing thousands at the Britannia Stadium as they failed to take advantage of a poor Sunderland side despite having the better of their red and white counterparts in all areas of the pitch.

This was a chance for Stoke to get another win under the belt yet the side rarely looked convincing in attack. There were plenty of breaks forward, and indeed chances, but the lack of pace, guile and movement, coupled with a disappointingly deep shape culminated in a frustrating stalemate.

- Bore draw at Britannia

They could have played until midnight without getting a goal such was the tone of the afternoon as both sides cancelled each other out from the off. The biggest talking point of the game though was sadly a bad injury to Marc Wilson, who is currently at the hospital nursing a suspected broken leg. Get well soon Marc.

The talking points are as follows;

Team Selection/Tactics - I expected the Stoke XI we saw but really wanted the manager to drop Jon Walters and bring in Matthew Etherington given that it was a home game and his defensive work wasn't needed as much. The side sat so deep that the fans were left with a feeling of déjà vu from last season as Peter Crouch floundered unaided up top and whilst he was sometimes joined by Walters, the Liverpudlian kept running down blind alleys with no pace or trickery to get the better of the fullbacks. I can't remember one Crouch flick on being anticipated by him, let alone met.

Marc Wilson - I feel harsh picking on Wilson given his injury but it would be remiss of me not to mention his performance which unfortunately was as disappointing as last week. Some of his short passing under little to no pressure was alarming and he gave the ball, and often the initiative, away far too readily. The fact he is filling in at left back is worrying enough, the fact that we now face a spell without anyone who has played there regularly is even worse and the finger is being pointed very firmly at Tony Pulis who once again failed to bring someone in during the transfer window.

Steven N'Zonzi - It was another Man of the Match performance from the Frenchman as he dominated the midfield with the most passes, posting a 90% success rate, the highest of anyone on the pitch. In terms of how that breaks down, he had an 85% accuracy in his own half, a 90% accuracy in the opposition half and 100% accuracy in the final third. Steve continues to shine alongside his midfield colleagues, who also had a good game, the problem was that all three were too far from the attack to make those passes count.

Crossing - This was particularly poor. For a side playing with a target man up front, the delivery into Crouch from the flanks was disappointing and given his flick ons went straight to the opposition for much of the afternoon, this meant Peter had a disappointing day. The team attempted 31 crosses and were successful with only FIVE, a disheartening 16% success rate. Charlie Adam was one of the worst offenders with only one successful cross from eleven attempted ... don't even get me started on Cameron's efforts.

Etherington - As I mentioned earlier in the piece, I've wanted to see Matty feature more, especially against the 'lesser' sides, as we miss his direct running and pace. All too often the side had a great chance to break but it was so laboured and predictable that many of Stoke's attacks came to nothing. The difference Matty made when he came on was clear for all to see, Sunderland were straight onto the back foot and the midfield had a chance to push up and support him. We've seen Pulis sub Walters twice in as many games with significant chunks of time remaining; will we be seeing him swap places on the bench with Etherington in the coming weeks? We can but hope.

Overall, it was a game of disappointment and frustration. Whilst the Potters were much more assured on the ball they looked very static and predictable on the attack, until Matty came on at least, and being so deep meant that we were frustrated, isolated and exposed for lack of pace as the club were so many times in the last campaign. Stoke are a work in progress but if Pulis continues with Crouch up front he needs to make sure the shape is such that it supports him. Very much a case of two points dropped.

Vis Unita Fortior

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