Jerome to the rescue (again)

Posted by James Whittaker

Chris Brunskill/Getty ImagesCameron Jerome once again came off the bench to spark Stoke to victory.

It wasn't pretty but Stoke managed to survive a late penalty appeal from Reading beating the Royals 2-1 to record their first win since Boxing Day.

- Report: Stoke 2-1 Reading
- Jolly: Reading comeback kings no more

I had said beforehand that at this stage of the season, given our recent run of poor form, a win on Saturday was vital and it didn't matter how it came. Indeed, despite Stoke's surprising dominance over their in-form rivals, they couldn't make their possession count and it wasn't until the introduction of Kenwyne Jones and Cameron Jerome that the game was turned for the better, as has been the case on many occasions this season.

Tony Pulis appears to have nailed his colours firmly to the mast in respect of his favoured leading striker, but it was the unfairly usurped Jones and partner-in-crime Jerome who saved the day for the manager, bringing much needed movement and pace into the attack, so toothless with Peter Crouch as the spearhead.

Crouch is well and truly back in favour now and he followed up a less-than-convincing performance last week with an equally disappointing effort against an inexperienced Reading backline. Like last week, Pulis' striker of choice won far less than his stature deserved, and when he wasn't getting bullied by the comparatively diminutive Adrian Mariappa, he was conceding fouls in attempting to win headers.

Pulis appeared to be in agreement as he stuck to his mantra of keeping things tight until the hour mark when he unleashes the game-changers into the equation. Many in the stands are starting to question why players who can consistently score find themselves scratching their backsides on the bench week in week out until they are given 30 minutes or less to, at worst, overturn a deficit or at best, win the game.

Meanwhile, back in the midfield, despite having limited options in front of him for the most part, Steven N'Zonzi was superb and dare I say would fare even better if given more licence to move forward with the ball to support the strikers. All too often he would find himself with no movement around him and after a square pass or two the ball would go back to Ryan Shawcross or Robert Huth who would do much the same before pumping the ball forward. The number of aerial duels was vast with 34 more than any other top flight fixture this season. It would be nice to see some more pass-and-move in the middle to complement our direct game allowing N'Zonzi to stretch his legs and influence proceedings in the final third.

Three points is three points though, and with the team somehow maintaining their position in the top ten, if they hadn't have won, or even worse had lost, they could have seen quite a dramatic drop down into the lower echelons of the league as they enter the final straight of the current campaign. It's always nice to go into a fortnight's break on the back of three points and hopefully the players will come back refreshed and rested. No one needs the break more than poor Geoff Cameron who played an entire season before arriving at the Potteries in the summer. Another player who will benefit will be fellow countryman Brek Shea who will be hoping to put himself in contention for a place on the bench by continuing his recovery from a recent foot operation.

The break also (hopefully) gives the management team time to assess what free transfer options are still available to plug the gaps they failed to fill in the recent window. The manager has hinted that this is a viable option for the club so fingers crossed there will be even more new faces to lift the squad and fans alike onto a top ten finish.

Vis Unita Fortior.

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