Binary is back at Stoke

Posted by James Whittaker

PA Photos
Stoke City's Geoff Cameron gets stuck in against Arsenal

The Arsenal game didn’t quite live up to the billing of old, the fast paced, blood and thunder grudge matches they once were seemed a distant memory as we limped our way through ninety minutes of one-paced play against a side equally bereft of attacking ideas.

Don’t get me wrong, a point is a point but we didn’t deserve any more than that as we once again struggled to pose any threat on the front foot, the fact we didn’t win a corner all game shows where much of our possession was. The forward line problems I have been writing about for the past nine months show little sign of abating and you get the feeling that this next week is one of the biggest of Pulis’ career as the transfer window comes to a close. That said, I thought our defence was superb, which it wasn’t for large parts of last season, so to build on that foundation by adding some more realistic options up top would make a huge improvement to the balance of our overall play and pull us out of the dreaded binary sequence in which we now find ourselves.

The main talking points were as follows;

Team Selection – I can only be buoyed by the fact that the manager has played two wingers in both of our games so far and I was delighted to see Pennant brought back in to cover for the injured Etherington. I was also happy to see our new recruit Geoff Cameron come in for his debut, the fact that Pulis has faith in him despite only training with his new team-mates for a day following his midweek exertions speaks volumes on the role he could play this season.

Kightly – I was interested to see how Kightly would get on over on the left and was pleasantly surprised that he seemed as comfortable there as on his more favoured right flank. Much as he did at Reading he was always showing for the ball and wasn’t afraid to take his man on, he also showed that not only can he put a great cross in on his left foot, he’s also comfortable shooting with it too. He has a very welcome knack of finding himself in useful positions when the attack has built down the opposite side, which should find him adding to his tally before too long.

Cameron – I’ve been looking forward to seeing Geoff in action more than any other player and I liked what I saw. It was obviously a very difficult game to come into, the Premier League is frenetic as it is but this particular game is a step up on that and given that it was quite a baptism of fire he did very well indeed. It took him quarter of an hour or so to realise he would be playing 80 minutes without the ball and once he’d settled into shape (more or less) he set about breaking up play and in doing so made more tackles and ground duals than anyone else with eight tackles made, seven of those successfully. Those stats make pleasant reading but perhaps don’t tell the full story as for most of the tackles he did make he had no right to come away with the ball. His anticipation, timing and execution in wrestling the ball of the opposition, but doing so cleanly, meant he set up a number of attacks in the space behind the Arsenal attack. His second half was a bit quieter as the team was changed around and Arsenal pushed for a winner, but all the signs are there that he looks a great addition to the team and if we could get some pace into those channels then the counter attacking game we used to be so good at could make a most welcome return.

Crouch/Walters – I fear I am annoying you as much as I am myself by writing about these two again but it would be remiss of me not to mention that lack of impact they had in a game that saw us mount few serious attacks. These two cannot continue, it’s a simple as that. This is a problem of Pulis’ making because for all Crouch brings to the team, playing him as the furthermost striker is killing any attacking purpose and tempo we used to have. Our attacking play is easy to counter as Crouch is so static the opposition just double up on him and given there is no-one there to pick up the loose ball it just comes straight back to us.

It’s a positive sign that Pulis recognised this and brought on Jerome to play that role dropping Crouch into the deeper striking position, but as we have seen before he is unable to play there and so I left the game once again wondering why on earth we bought such an expensive striker who doesn’t seem to fit either of the striking roles the manager has worked with his entire career. We should know by next weekend exactly what direction our season will take, if no fit for purpose striking additions are made (i.e. not Owen) then I fear we will spend the season looking over our shoulder. If they are made then a huge sigh of relief will ring around the Britannia as we would hopefully be welcoming back some mobility and purpose up front.

A lot of people criticise Jones and his efforts on the pitch but the fact that we look ten times better as an attacking force with him in the side should therefore further illustrate just how serious the problem is and indeed just how much better we could be if we got someone new who was better suited to that advanced role. All of that though would be at the expense of the club’s record signing though and would be a huge admission that Crouch doesn’t fit the team which would leave his only other option as changing the system and as I’ve been saying for a long time, sadly I don’t see that happening either, do you?

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(Stats provided by @EPLIndex)

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