The West Ham epiphany

Posted by James Whittaker

Paul Ellis/AFP/GettyImagesSome Stoke City fans are calling for Tony Pulis to make a change up top for Monday's West Ham tilt.

I hate it when Stoke don't play on a Saturday. It just feels wrong, and there is no European tie on the Thursday before to soften the blow this time.

Our opponents tomorrow night, West Ham, have featured as our opposition for some pretty significant games over the years; none more so than the epic semifinal matches before Stoke's eventual League Cup triumph back in 1972. In a game billed as one of the best ever cup ties, we overcame Bobby Moore's Hammers in a two-leg tie spanning 49 days. I'll not go into any more detail here and I couldn't do as good a job as my ESPN colleague Peter Thorne (no, not that one) who has written a cracking three part piece every Stokie should read.

More recently, and most specifically in 2011, the Hammers played another significant part in Stoke's history by unwittingly kicking off a great run of form culminating with another couple of trips to Wembley. It was against West Ham in March 2011 where a struggling Stoke were beaten 3-0 in a match that was the last straw for most fans annoyed by a manager who had reverted to playing just one winger and still hadn't found his best team (sound familiar?). The mood in the stands was clear and the message actually got through to Tony Pulis who had his perennial epiphany and brought back both wingers for our next match, a 4-0 demolition of Newcastle and the rest, as they say, is history.

We find ourselves in a similar position as the men in red and white line up against the Hammers in front of the cameras of Sky on Monday night. The fans are starting to tire of Pulis' negativity and are looking for a semblance of hope from a manager who has shown little to suggest he knows how to solve the problems so prevalent over the last season's worth of games. Much of that frustration is at the lack of movement up front; and while Jonathan Walters was key to the aforementioned run up to the Cup final, those three months seem to have been little more than a blip on an otherwise below par stay in the Potteries, as the smart money is on him lining up to start his 63rd consecutive game.

Despite his some-time strike partner Peter Crouch being Stoke's top scorer, a lot of fans are calling for change up top. Given Kenwyne Jones' impact as substitute in recent weeks, the Trinidadian is the name most are calling for as we look to inject some movement and pace into a side bereft of either, arguably since our record signing arrived. The presence of Jones certainly brings the best out of Walters, and given we know that Pulis would most likely drop a small child before his favoured scouse workhorse, his inclusion would be offset by the introduction of the more agile and powerful option up top. That's not to say that Jones is without his own issues and he has many of his own detractors, but the need is such that even they are calling for him to come in for Crouch to try and recapture those magical months we all hark back to where 'Pulisball' actually worked, and worked well.

While the introduction of Jones would be welcomed, you'd expect that any involvement would still see Walters out wide. And I'm not sure Charlie Adam can cover some of Kenwyne's more 'relaxed' moments, shall we say, so we're back to the other problem of one winger. Still, even with that issue, I'd fancy Jones to improve the side's attacking shape immeasurably. I just hope that Pulis has this season's West Ham epiphany before, and not after the match.

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