Crippled by expectation

Posted by James Whittaker

In a week where Pulis marked the tenth anniversary of his arrival at the club, it was perhaps fitting that we had to endure a performance as turgid as those after his first coming all that time ago.

I felt like I was trapped in a nightmare as all the frustrations from last season came flooding back with us punting long ball after long ball to Crouch, and even with him winning every single header, the tactic was entirely without success. Despite that fact, Pulis persisted and even threw on Jones as another target man as he once again showed he doesn’t have the initiative or tactical wherewithal to change the team around when the emphasis is on the men in the red and white to attack.

It’s no surprise that Stoke have played their best games against the bigger sides in the league, these are Pulis’ ‘freebies’, his bonus games where the usual shackles are loosened somewhat and we play our best football. Where the manager falls down time and again is when there is expectation and whilst he does his damnedest to crush it week after week, his failings shine through in those games he identifies as the ones we should try to win.

Another poor game from Walters only compounds the fans’ frustrations as the team’s lack of pace is continually exposed and the gap between him and the equally static Crouch widens. That lack of pace has been a problem ever since we signed Crouch and whilst the club record signing might be the best striker Stoke have at their disposal, in my opinion he is the worst striker for the system the manager continues to employ. Bring Walters into that equation and keep the team deep and there is little sign of us being a potent attacking threat. The fact Crouch won every header he contested is commendable, but his flick-ons either went to no-one or were made in the centre circle with only Walters or Kightly twenty yards ahead. I’ve spoken before about my preference for Jones up front in Pulis’ system and his introduction and impact did little to persuade me otherwise as he bullied the Norwich defence and had the most shots of any of our players, and the most on target (Crouch had none).

The midfield weren’t as good as they have been but given they appeared to be sat so deep and not in a position to make an impression that’s perhaps to be expected, though Whitehead did his best to move the team on as he sought to keep his place from the returning Whelan. Deano was my choice for Man of the Match and despite a slow start went on to pull the strings from the middle with an impressive 93% pass success rate compared to Adam’s 75% and N’Zonzi’s uncharacteristic 77%. In fact Deano’s accuracy was 100% in his own half and an impressive 86% in the oppositions, compared to Adam’s 58% and N’Zonzi’s 63%. Sadly this wasn’t enough to drive the team forward as the manager preferred the play to bypass the midfield for the majority of the game in favour of the laboured angle to Crouch, who incidentally had the worst attacking half passing accuracy of any of our players.

I got the impression that Pulis sees Adam as key to our approach away from home, that by including the often maverick Scot behind Crouch, he will pull a Hollywood ball from nowhere, negating the need for an advanced midfield. That expectation seems to have had an effect on Adam and despite him being one of the best players in the country not so long ago, it’s unrealistic of the manager to expect him to carry that attacking burden on his shoulders in a position he’s clearly uncomfortable in. The opposition rightly identified Charlie as the attacking threat and took every opportunity to ‘nullify’ his influence with fouls on him making up half of the total fouls on our players.

The bottom line is that today, and indeed last week was just not good enough. The honeymoon period of the new system is well and truly over and Pulis has some more difficult decisions to make, for him at least, the rest of us can see the problem a mile off. Stoke remain toothless as an attacking force and with no away wins in fifteen games, the onus is on the manager to find that plan B and find it quick.

Vis Unita Fortior

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