Bottom versus second bottom was never going to be a classic, and that’s the way it turned out – but we didn’t play our part in the football side of things as Stoke ran out well worth the 2-0 win on a strangely sunny afternoon in the Potteries.
Thankfully the races weren’t on in Utoxetter, which meant that the town was relatively quiet save for the Shropshire branch of the Leeds supporters club. Decent set of lads, probably because we didn’t mention THAT game, so we had a chat, they went on a brewery tour, and we left the Old Talbot for the Vaults and some more draught Bass. We got to the ground in plenty of time to catch up with various folks before the main event, and discuss how many fit players Moyes could muster, and where he’d deploy them. Well, we got the following…
Manquillo O’Shea Papy PVA
Khazri Ndong Watmore
We kicked away from the visiting fans, with a blustery wind catching the ball if it went too high, and we wondered how Rodwell and the Fresh Prince of McNair would get on as the base of the midfield. We’d hardly had time to make any sort of assessment of that, although we had started at a decent pace and not allowed Stoke any time on the ball, with Watmore winning a corner on the right. Khazri’s kick was cleared at the front post by Joe Allen (aye, and more of him shortly – pardon the pun). When Papy tackled Bony to prevent a scoring opportunity, we should have built on that possession. Not to be, as Stoke played in Arnautovic, he chased the ball to the byeline and Manquillo was nowhere to be seen as the poor man’s Zlatan had time to control the ball with his wrong foot, shape up, and clip a perfect cross into the box. Perfect, but it should still have been dealt with as Papy simply watched the second smallest man on the pitch, Joe Allen, nod it home. Wasn’t he supposed to be injured? Seven minutes gone, and already chasing a game that we struggled to impose ourselves on as the smallest man on the pitch, Shaqiri, picked his passes and Allen pulled our defence all over the place as the game wore on.
It wasn’t all Stoke, and McNair did really well to set up Khari who got the ball to Defoe, but the tackle was decisive and the chance of a goal gone. He did get a shot away soon after, but it went harmlessly over the bar, and Stoke came back at us with Bony shooting wide after running through our defence. Watmore was back and forwards like a mad Jack Russell, but Stoke managed to get in the way of anything that looked dangerous. Arnautovic put an effort wide as Stoke got on top, and as half time approached, PVA went down injured and had to leave the field. On came Billy Jones, and he was quickly into the action, blocking a shot which fell to Cameron and Pickford did well to save. The resultant corner, in added time, was only cleared as far as the edge of the box, and Allen volleyed perfectly to double the home side’s lead. Even the most optimistic amongst us couldn’t honestly see a way back from that.
With no changes at the break, we had to go for it and tried to push forward, but that allowed Stoke more space on the break, and they had us on the back foot whenever they gained possession.. Pienaar replaced McNair on 55, and saw a lot of the ball, but never seemed able to find a decisive pass. On the hour, Watmore set up Defoe and as we held our breath waiting for the strike, Shawcross got in the way to deny us the chance of a little bit of happiness. Bardsley picked up an injury and left the field to generous applause from our end, to be replaced by the delightful Charlie Adam, who was less warmly received.
Pickford made good saves, Watmore shot tamely over the bar, O’Shea got in the way of things, and Arnautovic got the ball into the net but was called offside. Khazri did manage a sot, but it was wide, and Stoke looked the more likely scorers as we lacked decisiveness around the opponents’ penalty box. They decided to kill the game rather than go for a third, which was nice of them, and took off Bony in favour of Walters and Allen in favour of Muniesa. We responded by giving Anichebe ten minutes to save the world, in place of Rodwell. He gave away a free kick immediately, then was caught offside getting to Papy’s cross, but he inspired, if that’s the right word, our fans into song. Probably because his name scans quite well, but the final ten minutes saw, or rather heard, our already noisy section crank the volume up to eleven or so. Crazy, considering the impotence on display in pink.
Adam hit one from distance that went off the top of the bar, and right at the death we thought we were going to get one back when the ball fell nicely to Manquillo in the box, he swung his leg – and missed the ball. Typical. The four added minutes brought a yellow for Jones, and nowt else for us. All over, like our defence.
Discussing it afterwards, we reckoned that we could at least recognise what the defence were supposed to be doing, even if, in the first half, they had pointedly failed to do it. We knew what Defoe was supposed to be doing, but the midfield was a mystery. They got the ball on plenty of occasions, and even managed to create some chances, but you just couldn’t see what the shape of it was supposed to be.
Our Ian said several years ago, after a particularly dull draw, that he never wanted to go to Stoke again. This one only reinforced his opinion – he’s not had much luck with away games lately, although neither have the rest of us. The Moyes Scottish Stare will be much in evidence in the near future, for what good it will do us. It’s hard to see where we go from here – I’ll not be the only person trying to count how many of our players genuinely want to be at the club, and aren’t there simply to go through the motions and keep (relatively) fit until they either go back to their parent clubs or get a big-money move. Big money? I suspect Kone is now considered to be worth considerably less than he was two months ago, Papy worth less than we paid for him, and I still need to see more than promise from Ndong. We probably only have two players that other clubs honestly covet – a young keeper and a goal-poacher in his mid thirties. The rest either aren’t that great, or can’t stay fit long enough to be a consistent positive contributor. It’s not looking good, he said with his glass half full.
Man of the Match? It’s dead easy, after a performance that harked back to the dark days of the shapeless, toothless side that Mick McCarthy’s inherited, to say “nobody” or “the fans.” At Stoke, the fans far outshone the team, and was (still is) hard to pick any player and say that at least they had a canny game. OK, Pickford did, obviously, so it’s him.
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