Poor substitutions, not the referee, cost Stoke a win

Posted by James Whittaker

John Peters/Getty ImagesMark Hughes' Stoke City led most of the way at Old Trafford until they were done in by a late United charge.

Mark Hughes was unable to claim his 100th win as a Premier League manager, despite his Stoke side having led for over 70 minutes of the game they lost 3-2 to his former club Manchester United.

It was desperately unlucky for a side who took the early initiative and got stuck in to an out-of-sorts Man United defence. It was the Potters who looked like they would run away with it having enough decent chances to have scored three before the break. Alas, it was not to be, and for me the game turned on one decision, replacing the excellent Marko Arnautovic with Marc Wilson.

- Report: Manchester United 3-2 Stoke City

This was always going to be a difficult game, and playing with the slow, but brilliant on the day, Peter Crouch up front, movement in and around the front line would be crucial and the agility and trickery of Arnautovic was key to that. He was causing Phil Jones and Chris Smalling all kinds of trouble on the left flank meaning Stoke were a constant threat moving forward despite their lack of numbers in the final third.

It seemed ironic that having gone to Old Trafford with such attacking intent and having witnessed just how fragile the opposition back line was that Hughes then proceeded to park the bus for the entire second half. I'm sure that wasn't the intention, but it was the only possible outcome having brought on the disappointing Wilson and playing him wide left. All momentum was lost; any threat on that side was gone and Man United knew it as they pushed forward without fear of recourse at the other end.

Hughes got the subs wrong, plain and simple. I've since heard him complain that Javier Hernandez should not have been on the pitch to score following a bad tackle on Robert Huth, but that is merely deflecting responsibility for the poor decisions he made from the bench. I agree that bringing Oussama Assaidi in at that early stage away from home would have been a risk, but the new manager hasn't flinched in his attacking convictions until now. He could have had the best of both worlds and moved Stephen Ireland over to the left, put Steven N'Zonzi behind Crouch and moved Wilson into his preferred defensive midfield role.

That would have maintained a defensive wall while ensuring the movement and pace on the break was still there. But what actually happened just played into the hands of a side that, up until that point, looked beaten. I was equally as surprised when in the last ten minutes, having gone behind for the first time, Hughes chose Charlie Adam to come on instead of the more logical option of Assaidi -- it just didn't make any sense at all for a side wanting to get back up the pitch.

I'm far from laying into the manager though; of course he will make mistakes but he also continues to improve the side on the whole. He spoke midweek about the need to find the right combination up front to see us through the year and I think most will agree he now has that with the recall and performance of Crouch. Crouchie linked up brilliantly with all of those around him and dare I say it, even Jon Walters had a good game having been reunited with the big man. The progression of Ireland and Arnautovic has been the key to (hopefully) finally unlocking the striking conundrum and scoring two goals at Old Trafford and creating a number of opportunities will do the side's confidence no harm, despite the manner of the defeat.

Crouch deserves an extended run in the side to see if that combination continues, and if I was to make one change for the home games, it would be to start Assaidi over Walters to have more of an attacking initiative. Walters is a good option away from the home comforts of the Britannia but I see him being dropped for home games as a good way of phasing him out of the side, and in doing so, stopping other players from relying on his work rate.

I've heard a lot of people saying it was Stoke's best performance all season; over the course of the 90 minutes, I don't agree. It would have been their best result had they hung on but their overall play was lacking for the most part. It was a world away from other performances on the road this term and that's why absolutely everyone associated with the club should be encouraged by the fact a historic win was so close.

Vis Unita Fortior


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