Stoke all but safe

Posted by James Whittaker

Charlie Adam celebrates giving Stoke the lead against NorwichGettyImagesCharlie Adam celebrates giving Stoke the lead against Norwich

Stoke City made it two wins from two as they beat relegation rivals Norwich 1-0 at a sunny but nervous Britannia stadium.

It was another clean sheet and another three points for Stoke, making the last week as productive as the three and a half months that preceded it. Tony Pulis finally reached his annual season's zenith of 40 points and whilst the Potters are not mathematically certain of their safety, only a monumental upturn in the form of those around them would now threaten their place in the Premier League.

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It was a game lacking in quality for the most part as Stoke once again decided to play without a winger on the pitch, Charlie Adam finding himself on the right of midfield as he did at QPR in order to shoe horn his talents into the starting eleven. Despite him struggling to get a foothold in the first half, an early goal after the interval visibly boosted his confidence and self-belief after good work by Peter Crouch and Cameron Jerome. It's those three players' performances that I'm going to look at here.

Charlie Adam - Despite finding himself out of position again, Charlie coped admirably and, much as he has for his last couple of starts, was more than eager to receive and use the ball positively. In a game where the referee seemed to be on a sponsored card-a-thon it was a miracle that Adam managed to stay out of his little black book. His attitude has been exemplary since the end of his ill justified exile and his discipline and concentration on the day were just as important as his creativity.

Charlie won more ground duels than any other Stoke player, twice as many as his closest challenger. He was also the only starting player on the pitch to win 100% of his aerial duels. Whilst his passing accuracy on the day was poor, he made the most forward passes of any of the front six players and in doing so was Stoke's most creative player.

Peter Crouch - I've long been condemned for my view that Crouch struggles in the Stoke system as better options sit on the bench, but I'm afraid he did nothing against Norwich to convince me otherwise and, despite his assist, was poor. I keep getting told he is a fantastic link man who uses the ball well, but not for the first time this month he had the worst passing accuracy of any player out there and was dispossessed more than anyone in red and white.

Add to that his continued propensity to avoid challenging for a ball within two yards of him or positively attacking it when there is an opportunity to score he cut a frustrating figure, and that's not even taking his glaring miss into consideration. Regrettably, I'm resigned to the fact that Pulis will persist with him for the remainder of the campaign despite his continued inclusion being central to the side's demise and lack of bite up front over the last 18 months or so.

Cameron Jerome - Ever since Cameron was allowed to stay the furthest forward striker he has excelled as many predicted. I've certainly been calling for him to be there for months. He is such a threat leading the line in a side that absolutely relies on having pace to make their direct approach remotely effective. He chased so many lost causes all afternoon and used his strength well to hold up play and wait for support. In fact, you can highlight his impact as the leading striker by the fact he only lost possession seven times to Crouch's 25.

His importance was underlined when he was surprisingly subbed off, leaving the side with no out-ball as they predictably dropped deeper and deeper, made all the more frustrating by his replacement, Matt Etherington's, inability to take a man on nor chase back at anything like the pace we know he has. He and Adam were so key to the three points on Saturday that it's only fair that the Scotsman saves a glass of his Man of the Match Champagne for a man infuriatingly left in the shadows for so long since his arrival.

The points on Saturday were crucial and to reach 40 with three games remaining is a huge relief to all concerned. Pulis will sleep a little easier at night and I hope he can enjoy the last week and concentrate on getting all he can from the last three games as he seeks to salvage what is left of his hardest season yet.

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