Work in progress

Posted by James Whittaker

Scott Halleran/Getty ImagesMichael Kightly scored the winner in Stoke's 2-0 victory over the Philadelphia Union.

Stoke finished off their tour of America with a comfortable 2-0 win over Philadelphia Union but it came at a cost as late-comer to the party Brek Shea suffered suspected medial ligament damage following a clumsy challenge.

- Stoke furious as winger Shea sidelined

The game was won in the first half with considerable ease as smart goals from Michael Kightly and an exciting Shea put the Potters two up within 20 minutes. The new way of playing continues to progress and in fact for the first seven minutes, Philly only made a handful of passes. Given the style isn't as much of a shock to the system anymore, I found myself studying each player, seeing how comfortable they were on the ball and working out which players were finding themselves exposed.

I decided to break this one down into comments on those players who stood out for one reason or another:

Ryan Shotton -- I'll get this one out of the way first; I was surprised to see Shotton get a start in this match, but then again it did seem like the match of the tour where 'the rest' got a chance. I thought he did well during the second half of last season when he was put in his rightful position so I expected more of him Tuesday night, but sadly the performance he put in was very poor; his second touch all too often a mistimed tackle after controlling the ball further than he was able to pass it. He was certainly one who was exposed after having been given the chance to impress out of strict shape.

Marc Muniesa -- I was really looking forward to seeing Muniesa play and was pleasantly surprised at how comfortable he looked given this was his first start. The fact that he started off the move for Stoke's first goal with a free kick backwards only to send in the final cross, a first time ball on his left foot, was a testament to the game Hughes is trying to play. On the flip side, I'm hoping our defensive coaches get hold of him and work on his strength and jumping as both were at times suspect -- with him getting bullied off the ball, but that's just coaching and strength work which can be trained and taught.

Steven N'Zonzi -- Picked up where he left off and was central to everything; but then it appeared that on attempting a flick that failed and not running back to get possession, he was promptly subbed by Hughes. I'm sure he wouldn't have been pulled for that alone and one doesn't have to look too far back for other displays of petulance on the pitch which the management team will want to nip in the bud right away. I'm one of the fans who'd love to see him stay, and if the management team think being taken down a peg or two will do him good then I'm all for that.

Michael Kightly -- I found myself sticking up for Kightly last season, a lot more than I felt necessary given the abuse he seemed to receive from some quarters. He did nothing wrong in Tony Pulis' ultra-defensive shape and even scored a few goals but sadly found himself with other decent players on the bench. He looked lively up top in a front three and while he was guilty of a couple of poor touches, he worked hard to get the ball back and remains a good option to play either side.

Brek Shea -- Poor Brek... He had only joined up with the squad the day previous having won the United States the Gold Cup so the last thing he needed was to pick up an injury on his first start for the club. Up to that point he looked impressive over on the left and it was his driving run through the middle that led to the first goal. He then turned from provider to scorer for the second with a measured finish from a decent Kightly centre after they swapped sides. Stoke fans will be keeping their fingers crossed that his injury is not as serious as first feared and that they'll get to see him feature again sooner rather than later.

All in all, I think Stoke are where they will want to be in terms of preparation for the new season but there is still work to be done: there were too many sloppy touches and at times the defence looked like rabbits caught in headlights. Premier League sides won't be anywhere near as forgiving when an opportunity presents itself. Hughes will no doubt be eager to get back to Clayton Wood to get stuck into more shape and pattern play having had little opportunity to do so over in the States; throw in a couple of friendlies and everything looks bang on track for the big kick off on August 17th -- oh, and a couple of new faces wouldn't hurt either.

Vis Unita Fortior


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