By Calvin Palmer
Is Stoke City a team in crisis? Recent results in the Premier League would suggest it is. On Saturday, Stoke lost at home to QPR to make it four straight defeats in which 14 goals have been conceded and only four goals scored. That is relegation form and the manner of Stoke’s performances has relegation writtne .
Manager, and I use the term loosely, Tony Pulis prides himself in the fact that he has never been relegated during his managerial career. Shots of him during the TV broadcast on Saturday showed him like a deer caught in a car’s headlights.
Pulis is probably facing the greatest challenge of his career at Stoke City because on Saturday’s showing, his side will be lucky to win another game all season.
The strong defence – a hallmark of Stoke City since they won promotion to the Premier League — is now leaking goals at an alarming rate.
In his after match comments, Pulis told the BBC, “The disappointment is that we are conceding goals, and soft goals. We are going to have to get back to basics.”
What Pulis failed to mention is the present Stoke team is woeful going forward and has not an ounce of creativity in the central midfield. Stoke rely on wingers Etherington and Pennant for the creative spark and teams are simply double marking these two players every time they get the ball. The net result is that Stoke create little in the way of chances from open play.
The main goal threat still comes from set-pieces. Rory Delap’s long throw-ins have now become ineffective and literally a waste of time. Why is Delap, a 35-year-old journeyman, continually picked ahead of younger players?
Pulis does not do younger players. You have to be at least 27 to hold down a regular place in a Tony Pulis side. The likes of Ryan Shotton, Diego Arismendi and Florent Cuvelier will likely have to go elsewhere to command a regular first-team place.
At the close of the transfer window, football writers were talking of Stoke City possibly knocking on the door of the top six in the Premier League following the £17 million spent on former England international Peter Crouch and Wilson Palacios. At the time, I wondered what hallucinogenic drugs these writers were on. To anyone who knows the first thing about football, Stoke City are not a good side. Their results often flatter to deceive. On a great many occasions against better sides, they are plain lucky.
Three months on and Wilson Palacios has yet to play a full game, which begs the question as to why Pulis paid out £7 million for him. Is Palacios carrying a long-term serious injury or is it just Pulis’s notorious xenophobia kicking in again?
After watching the QPR game, I caught the last 40 minutes of Swansea versus Manchester United. I was impressed at the way Swansea moved the ball around, retaining possession that enabled them to mount pressure on the United goal.
Stoke players almost to a man are incapable of passing a ball and you will rarely see players creating neat triangles of passes to progress upfield. As for a 30 yard pass to a player’s feet, it is the stuff of fantasy as far as Stoke are concerned. You will see a hoof upfield covering some 30 or 40 yards, but nine times out of 10 the opposition emerges with the ball.
Does Pulis not see any of these basic footballing shortcomings?
Of course his acolytes on The Oatcake message board will point out that for all of Swansea’s slick passing, they ended up losing 1-0 to United, while Stoke secured a 1-1 draw. They will conveniently forget that Stoke lost 2-0 against Swansea in another inept away performance.
The Pulis admirers will also point to Stoke’s success in the Europa League but Pulis will be the first to admit that the Europa League competition is merely a sideshow. Stoke’s continued presence in the Premier League is paramount. I will wager Birmingham City’s fans would willing swap their club’s involvement in Europe for being back in the Premier League.
Pulis has got his work cut out to get Stoke back on a winning streak. His back to basics call will probably result in the negative binary football and a series of uninspiring 0-0 draws, 1-0 wins and the occasional 0-1 defeats.
The next fixture sees Stoke take on struggling Blackburn Rovers. I fully expect Rovers to come away with a 1-0 victory, assuming Stoke’s defence returns to normal. If not, I can quite easily envisage another three-goal defeat, unless Blackburn really are as bad as their results suggest.
To my mind, relegation can only be averted with new faces being brought in during the January transfer window. But after the £20 million spending spree in August, Stoke City chairman Peter Coates has already said a similar level of spending will not occur in January. That is worrying because the present playing staff is simply not good enough to dig Stoke out of the present hole.
Coates must also be concerned that he is getting little in the way of return for his summer largesse. In his shoes, I would question giving Pulis another significant sum of money to spend.
As the footballing adage goes, you are only as good as your next game. Against Blackburn, Stoke will have to show something special, otherwise it is going to be a long season that may well see Pulis’s non-relegation record come to an end.