No need to panic -- or berate Hughes

Posted by James Whittaker

Matthew Lewis/Getty ImagesNew Stoke manager Mark Hughes.

"We always beat West Brom" has become a familiar cry from the Potteries, given Stoke’s success against their Black Country rivals over the years. But if they’re being honest, it’s been some time since they could rightly sing the words.

Saturday’s 0-0 draw made it just two points from nine on offer from the Baggies' last three visits, and it could have been even less had brilliant Bosnian Asmir Begovic not made a couple of crucial stops in his own personal battle with Stephane Sessegnon.

Much as I found myself tired of repeating my frustrations of the last couple of campaigns, I find myself becoming irritated at the lack of patience shown to a manager trying to turn a side around in only his eighth game in charge. Fickle fans and Tony Pulis diehards are far from helping as Mark Hughes tries in vain to find his most effective eleven from the players he was left let alone trying to implement a sea change in system as he does so.

It’s clear that the search goes on as we saw a different line-up once more, with Jon Walters being given the chance to play the lone striker role; he becomes the fourth player in eight games to be awarded that particular poisoned chalice. It was a similar story over on the left, with Oussama Assaidi being the third player charged with igniting the side’s fortunes on the flank.

That some are so quick to jump down Hughes' throat as he and the players continue to find their feet is disappointing, especially given a win on Saturday would have seen the side go to eighth in the league.

Hughes and the players are searching for the right balance, how much to keep the ball, when to work it forward, when to use the wings, when to get the players into the box, all while being conscious of shape and defence. It’s a similar story in the stands, as fans also should be finding the balance for their own frustrations given the situation and the dire displays of the last two years.

Yes, it’s been a poor run, and the lack of chances, let alone goals, is a very real concern. But with every game, the link-up play going forward looks better and better, and given some early wins, the side has some breathing space while that balance is sought.

The campaign is eight games old, and while current form is a huge concern for the likes of Sunderland -- who sit bottom of the league off a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Swansea -- I really don’t think now is the time for Stoke fans to panic, given the cushion we have over them and their ilk.

Stephen Ireland is now looking fully fit and put in an amazing shift up and down the pitch. His link-up play with Marko Arnautovic goes from strength to strength -- with them on the pitch, Stoke have a decisive and meaningful pacey option on the break. Add to that Assaidi's encouraging performances and ability give the side another option to break quickly and dangerously -- those are two parts of a very big puzzle the manager has gone a long way to solving.

I’m honestly not anywhere near being worried. Any reasonable fan simply has to concede that the gut feeling they get walking away from the stadium is nothing like the one experienced last season -- it really is a whole new ball game. I'm excited by what I'm seeing, I for one can’t wait for the next match and it doesn’t matter who the opposition is because under Hughes I know the side will attempt to win whoever it is.

Hughes isn’t daft, he may not be a lifelong Stoke fan, but he knows where things need to improve and the use of numerous players and systems suggest he isn't just going to carry on with the same formulas regardless of outcome. Every week last season, I spoke to fans completely and utterly frustrated at the constant war of attrition and the fact there never looked to be a way out of it.

There was a way out of it, though. It came in the shape of Mark Hughes, and I think to discredit his achievements with such limited resources in such little time says more about the fans doing so and their agendas than the man making huge strides to bring success to their club.

Vis Unita Fortior


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