I’m glad another tedious international break is over but at least this one was brightened slightly by the inclusion of Pickford in the senior squad. Our injury list seems to have been growing by the day and though Pienaar is fit again, we’ll just have to wait and see if Kone can recover in time. Whoever starts, it’s clearly going to be a weakened side and going to Stoke is never easy. It’s a bottom of the table clash and if we lose, we’ll be rock bottom and four points adrift of Stoke. If Palace beat West Ham today, there’ll do us a favour and we can try to get a result against the Hammers next Saturday. It’s all grim stuff and hard to get enthusiastic about on this cold morning. I haven’t heard from anyone about a pub in London that shows our matches – my former favourite bar must’ve been rumbled as they don’t show 3.00 games any more – and although I was given a good download site, I don’t have Windows 10 and can’t access it. So, it’ll have to be audio only for me again this afternoon. Match prediction (on the optimistic side) 1-1.
When the team news came through just after 2.00 it was bad as both Kone and Denayer were missing, with Djilobodji and PVA replacing them. I managed to get SAFSEE working straightaway for a change and awaited developments. We won a corner very early on but it was cleared easily. The next real action was when Stoke took the lead in the seventh minute and again it was sloppy defending, by O’Shea who didn’t seem to be looking around him, that allowed Anautovic to pass to Allen who headed home from close range. Our passing and dead balls sounded poor again and on the quarter hour Khazri would’ve done much better to pass to the unmarked Defoe instead of going it alone. Just after that we produced our first real chance but Defoe’s shot was blocked by Shawcross. Djilobodji managed to knock Bony over; not many can claim to have done that. Commentator Gary Bennett said some of our players, including Khazri and Watmore, looked leggy. In the twenty-fifth minute we had another good chance but Defoe’s shot went just over the bar. Shortly afterwards Bony shot just wide for them. Elsewhere Arsenal took a 2-0 lead against Swansea, which was good for us, and that brought a glimmer of joy to the afternoon. We started to put some more flowing play together for a spell after the half-hour, winning our fourth corner, but Stoke sounded dangerous on the break and we weren’t tracking back effectively. PVA went down injured for the second time with around five minutes to go and this time Jones came on to replace him. This resulted in Manquillo switching to left back. Hull were also losing 2-0, to Bournemouth, and that was all to the good too. Stoke started to pile on the pressure as we entered stoppage-time and Allen, who was standing all alone on the edge of our box, received the ball and shot home their second. It was a terrible time to concede and I couldn’t see us coming back from that.
As we kicked off again Khazri had moved up to play alongside Defoe while Gary Bennett wondered how long it would be before we saw Anichebe come on. Six minutes in, as the broadcast kept cutting in and out, Pickford had to make two saves in quick succession to keep us in with a hope. Our fans were doing their best to roar the team on. If we managed a quick reply, then we might have a chance but Stoke sounded more likely to score. Pienaar came on for McNair and next thing Khazri conceded a free-kick in a dangerous spot outside of our box; Pickford saved it. Arnautovic was getting mentioned all the time and he was clearly at the centre of the action as was Joe Allen. Shortly after the hour-mark Cameron almost knocked the ball into his own net following a corner but it was cleared. Charlie Adam came on for Bardo and that wasn’t exactly pleasing news as he’s a terror with a dead ball. Bardo received warm applause from both sets of fans. It sounded like we’d gone three-down about twenty minutes in but it was ruled offside. As we entered the final quarter it seemed very unlikely that we’d make a comeback but miracles can happen. It looked like Anichebe was finally going to appear with around a quarter of an hour to go but after Allen and Bony had been subbed for them, he sat down again. Gary Bennett said the game was over and I wasn’t about to argue with him. Khazri managed a shot on target from a free-kick and then Anichebe did actually enter the fray, for Rodwell, with ten minutes left on the clock. The guy on the Stoke p.a. called him Annachubby. The SAFSEE broadcast then went off completely for a few minutes and when it finally returned nothing had changed; no surprises there then. Adam clipped the woodwork right near the end of normal time and then we were into four minutes of stoppage-time. It ended 2-0.
This was a comfortable win for Stoke, and they’ve been struggling too. See you at West Ham next week and let’s hope we can make them uncomfortable. If we can’t, God help us.
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