Decisions, Decisions

Posted by James Whittaker

Stoke took a point in a great end-to-end game that we looked like losing until Pulis made some brave decisions and changed things around.

It started out much as the 9 months previous with not only a completely isolated Crouch but also an opposition that were finding themselves behind our defence far too easily. We've been here before, of course, but this time Pulis made changes and moved to more of a three-man midfield and in doing so replaced Wilko, who had been struggling against the counter attacks down his side.

The result was a team that looked so much happier, a team that had options when on the ball, and a team that so easily could have won the game having NINETEEN shots on goal! I always say things as I see them, and Pulis has deserved a hell of a lot of stick this year. But much as that was well deserved, so should the praise for today be.

The main talking points were as follows;

Team Shape – Going 1-0, our shape was lost and there was no way back into it. Thankfully the manager saw this, too, and got the team higher up the pitch, which to his credit was brave given the pace Wigan had on the counter and the joy they were getting down our right side. The change had such a profound impact on the game that it has to be a system we play week in, week out from here on in; this is the formation I was hoping for after we signed Adam, but it was actually Whitehead who shone as he played the box-to-box midfielder brilliantly, linking up with the three pronged attack

Wilson – Marc had another poor game for me. He once again struggled on the back foot, making just the one tackle all game – which, it should be noted, was unsuccessful. Moving forward he also fared poorly, losing possession more than any other defender. Once the change was made, he was encouraged by the space in front of him. But this seemed to expose his failings even more -- having carried the ball forward, he would stop, turn onto his right foot and launch it in the general vicinity of Crouch with little pace for the big man to do much with it. With the numbers of players we had forward, there were so many better options for him. Adam also showed for the ball on a few occasions and was completely ignored. It could well be that those were his instructions, but you'd like to think that common sense would prevail when the options inside were that much more favourable. I thought our lack of a left foot on that side really harmed us and even an out-of-form Etherington would have thrived on the space and territory we had in this new shape.

The Middle Three – I was really excited to see how Adam would fare and imagined a floating presence in front of Whelan and Whitehead. But it was Whitehead who was the spare man. Joining up with the attack brilliantly, he was my MOTM. Whelan's set pieces weren't great, but he looked a lot more comfortable after the change and both he and Whitehead had more than an 80% pass success rate, which is unheard of (and most welcome). You might think that those figures were ‘safe' passes but they weren't. Given the territory we had, these guys were right in the thick of it and Whelan's attacking half passing accuracy was our highest at 75%. Adam looked eager to get involved, too, and sat back using the ball to intelligently set up attacks quickly and efficiently. His set pieces were also good and his was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet as Al-Habsi produced a world class save.

Walters – It was nice to see Walters get more of the ball in the attacking third, but it only served to illustrate his lack of composure and ability even more. Once again he demonstrated a lack of pace and invention, struggling to get past his man and, indeed, he lost possession 21 times, more than anyone else on the team and the joint worst on the pitch with Figueroa. I appreciate that Walters will feature if we are going to keep playing this new formation, and such is my desperation for that change, I'm willing to sacrifice his invention and finishing for better possession and territory.

So there we have it, a very happy Stoke fan buoyed by the prospect of the manager scrapping the age-old formation and approach that has seen us struggle so much this calendar year, and indeed many years before that. Reasons to be cheerful are many, now we have time to get the new lads on the training pitch to perfect it even more and if we can manage 19 shots on goal with no N'Zonzi and with Adam not yet used to his team mates, I can only have hope for the future. Don't let us down Tony…

Vis Unita Fortior

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