The Shawcross Redemption

Posted by James Whittaker

Scott Heavey/Getty ImagesRyan Shawcross was all smiles after scoring the goal that gave Stoke a full three points in their home opener.

Mark Hughes recorded his first Premier League win in 16 months as he saw his new Stoke side take all three points coming from behind to beat Crystal Palace 2-1.

It was a huge occasion with it being the Welshman's competitive home debut and you could sense the nervous excitement as the fans sat to watch the brave new era unfold at the Britannia. It's clear that the side is far from the finished article and the unusually subdued faithful took a while to get going, much like the players who put in a first half performance that they will want to forget. But all's well that ends well and Ryan Shawcross breathed a sigh of relief on the final whistle as he ended up the match winner having made an uncharacteristic error that resulted in Palace's goal.

- Match report: Stoke 2-1 Crystal Palace

The main talking points for me were:

Tempo -- There has been a huge shift in the pace of the game under Hughes and while the ball is kept and possession maintained, in doing so it has removed the tempo the fans have become accustomed to. The first half was a perfect demonstration of this as it felt at times like the players' heartbeats barely raised above resting level and an evident lack of sharpness from a slower game was to blame for some loose touches and poor concentration.

Gladly this was something that Hughes himself had noticed and "getting on the front foot" was a concept he was quick to highlight in his post-match interviews, pushing the opposition high up the pitch with the kind of urgency that gets the crowd on its feet and players in and around to support an attack.

The midfield -- Those in the middle had a mixed game, worryingly there was an alarming number of unforced errors from all three who didn’t quite get to grips with their more mobile counterparts. It is clear that Steven N'Zonzi is the only real player with pace and the ability to carry the ball, but given he had an off day there was no-one around him who could step up to the plate. I've long since championed Geoff Cameron to start in the middle and we caught a glimpse of what he could bring to the engine room with a marauding run straight through the centre carrying the ball forward with purpose and ease.

Utilising the squad -- It was a difficult game to watch with the static front three, and while all tried their hardest, the shape ruthlessly exposes their weaknesses in this more mobile system. Given what Hughes is trying to get the side to do, I honestly believe that putting less-favoured players in these important positions that have the right attributes is a much better option with the personnel available. Cameron Jerome might not have a great touch but his pace and unpredictability puts defenders on the back foot and gives the side options in the channels; options they lacked for so long in the game.

Michael Kightly is another who has been left out of the squad altogether, but I'd have taken him over Jonathan Walters on the right of the three given that he is comfortable in possession, two-footed and has a degree of skill with the ball at his feet. He's also confident and direct in his play so the side would have had more meaningful runs at the defence giving them more of a headache and pinning them back.

I feel I'm repeating myself a little by saying that two new faces up front would transform the side and really make the new system tick, but it's so glaringly obvious it would be remiss of me to ignore. Thankfully the management team are working hard to get those kinds of players in, and with sightings of Liverpool's Oussama Assaidi in one of the executive boxes on the day and news of a bid for Peter Odemwingie, I'm hoping that this area of the pitch will see significant improvement over the coming days.

It felt good to be back at the Brit, the pre-season seemed longer than ever but with a home and away game now done and dusted the season is well and truly underway and the side looks a world away from what the fans are used to. But with the press straight back to their predictable selves calling the Potters long ball (only Arsenal and Fulham played fewer yesterday)and the annual exclusive interview with Aaron Ramsey and how he's getting over his injury, sadly it seems little has changed off the pitch.

Vis Unita Fortior


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