After last Saturday’s bore draw it’s back to the real stuff this afternoon. Big Vic is definitely out along with Pienaar and we’ve got three away in the African Cup but Stoke have three players there too including Bony and I’m glad he’ll not be involved. Stoke have managed to keep at a level above us in recent seasons and they’ve got some good players with Crouch and Arnautovic always being a threat upfront. We’ve been prone to concede free-kicks in dodgy places recently and with a dead-ball man like Adam likely to take any today I’m going to be very nervous when that happens. Our immediate rivals have some tough games today as Leicester are at home to Chelsea, Hull entertain Bournemouth while Swansea play Arsenal. West Ham are at home to Palace so something must give there and a draw would be best for us. Nothing’s happened in the transfer window yet but it seems that something will on the incoming front so no doubt it’ll all go to the wire as it usually does. Stoke have lost their last three away games but they were playing very strong opposition. I see that you can get 12-1 for us to win today, which is worth a go, but I think it’ll probably be a draw so my match prediction is 2-2.
When the teams were announced, O’Shea was making a record-breaking appearance and Manquillo was on the bench, which again was looking very inexperienced. Would Moyes actually bring any of them on? Fab, Defoe and Januzaj were upfront. Bardo was on the bench for Stoke.
When I got the game online our fans were in good voice. We won a free-kick in a good spot in the first minute following an Adam foul but failed to make anything of it. It went from end to end for the next ten minutes with no real chances for either side but it was clear Djiobodji and O’Shea were in for a long battle with Crouch as Stoke pumped in plenty of diagonal balls. Stoke took the lead just before the quarter hour mark when a long ball found Arnautovic racing down the left and after Vito stopped his first shot he hammered his second attempt into the net. Six minutes later he got his second goal after he’d been allowed to take a couple of one-twos as he ran through our box. The way we’d played so far didn’t make me think we were going to get one goal back let alone two but we soon won a free-kick at the right angle of their box. It was easily headed clear. Shortly afterwards I thought it was 0-3 when Djilobodji was trying to let the ball run out for a goal-kick without realizing the threat around him but mercifully Vito got his hands on it. Vito had a very wobbly moment himself when he only got a hand on a Shaqiri shot and it dribbled just past our right post. From the ensuing corner, though, Stoke made it three when Vito should have done much better in an aerial duel with Crouch and the latter nodded it into the net. This was the cue for hundreds of our fans to get up and leave. I felt myself that we were going to get a real good hiding as our defence in particular was all over the place. In the thirty-eighth minute we had our best effort yet when Rodwell blasted a good shot goalwards and his follow-up effort was put out for a corner. PVA blasted over the bar from the corner but a minute later we pulled one back. A long pass from Love in our own half found Defoe running down the middle with just Grant in goal to beat and he hit the ball coolly in off the left post to give us some hope. The goal gave us a shot in the arm and we started to muck in a lot more. Borini went down injured in stoppage-time when Adam’s knee connected with his thigh and next thing Djilobodji’s hand connected with Crouch’s face so it was all blood and thunder. It was 1-3 at the break and I couldn’t argue with that but an early goal for us in the second-half and anything could happen. Elsewhere Swansea were losing 1-0 while the West Ham and Hull games were level.
We had a good effort not long after the restart when a Borini shot was blocked by Grant. It warmed the crowd up a bit at any rate. Next thing we conceded a dodgy free-kick just outside our box but Adam hit it wide. Five minutes in we won a corner but, as usual, wasted it. Adam got the first yellow card of the game when he splattered Rodwell and the resultant kick was in a great position for us but it came to nothing. Arnautovic had a chance for his hat-trick when he ran on to a great pass in our box but his low shot went just wide. At the other end Rodwell should have done better when he had a great shooting opportunity in their box but it went wide. The crowd were in fine voice and with half an hour to go we still had a chance. Djilobodji was booked for a bad foul on Arnautovic and was lucky to escape a red. By the midway stage Stoke were looking a bit rattled and I was glad to see Adam subbed by Afellay. Vito knocked Djilobodji over as he collected a long punt so they clearly didn’t have much communication going on. With fifteen minutes to go we’d stemmed the tide but could we manage to snatch two goals back? It seemed very unlikely as we spent too much time passing it from side to side or backwards around the halfway line and Stoke’s defence seemed more than capable of dealing with our attacks. Our fans were still urging us on and the vast majority were still in their seats. With six minutes to go we hadn’t made any changes so maybe it’s true that Moyes doesn’t rate any of those on the bench. Seb had a decent shot but it was blocked by Rodwell. As we never win when Rodwell starts maybe we could bring him on after ten minutes? Five minutes of stoppage-time were announced but the stadium was looking pretty empty by then. Januzaj was booked just before it ended 1-3. Swansea and Palace both lost too but Hull won so they’ve gone above us. Well, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be at one point but it was certainly bad enough. Anyway, see you at the Hawthorns.
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