When Stoke’s influential striker Mamady Sidibe was stretchered off with a serious looking injury after just four minutes of Saturday’s draw with Fulham many Stoke fans will have feared the worst. It has now been confirmed that the Malian has suffered cruciate knee ligament damage and will be out for a least a month or two, possibly considerably more after a scan confirms the extent of the damage.
Sidibe celebrates with Carl Dickinson after scoring the winner against Aston Villa back in August
On Saturday, Sidibe was replaced by Richard Cresswell, who is generally considered to not be of Premier League calibre by Stoke supporters, but that is beside the point that I am making. Sidibe possesses incredible aerial ability and wins a huge number of flick-ons for Stoke, while he also holds the ball up very well. He is integral to our direct style of play as there is no-one else in the squad, or possibly even the world, capable of playing his role as well as he does. He also has the useful habit of popping up with some timely goals, handing Stoke late wins against Aston Villa and West Brom this season.
On Saturday, after Sidibe was injured, the rest of the Stoke side continued to play as if he was still on the pitch, hitting countless long balls forward that Cresswell had no chance of winning. If this is a trait in our play that continues to manifest itself in our play during Sidibe’s absence, we truly do look to be in trouble, as without a player to effectvely play the target man role and with Rory Delap’s long throws somewhat neutralised at present we seem to lack any route to goal, with the exception of the odd moment of magic from the likes of Ricardo Fuller. Judging by this evidence, the injury to Sidibe seems to be a huge setback for Stoke.
The element of silver lining comes though when you consider the possibility that in the forthcoming matches without Sidibe the Stoke players will be able to play with a different style, something we certainly failed to do against Fulham, and pass the ball and press opponents instead of just hitting the ball long. As we saw against Newcastle in the second half, when we began to pass the ball better and harass the Newcastle players, this tactic can be very effective, clawing back a point from a desperate situation at 2-0 down at halftime. it is also far more entertaining for fans to see football like this rather than the dour play served up on Saturday.
If the injury to Sidibe will keep him sidelined for a lengthy period of time, it gives Tony Pulis even greater incentive to search for at least one new forward player when the transfer window re-opens in two weeks time, with Aston Villa’s Marlon Harewood seeming a likely acquisition. Record signing Dave Kitson, who has so far been a huge flop at Stoke is also coming back to fitness at the moment after a knee injury of his own. Many people believe the reason he has failed to impress for the Potters so far is that he is badly suited to the direct style of play favoured by Pulis. If a more passing style was adopted, perhaps Kitson would be able to make more of a mark at the club, as we know from his time in the Premier League at Reading when he is on form he is a very good footballer.
Villa’s Harewood is a target for Stoke
So, it seems to me whether Sidibe’s injury will really knock us, or whether we are able to work around it to produce good results depends on the adaptability of Pulis in his tactics and in the players in their ability to play a different style of football without becoming easy relegation fodder in the mode of the current West Brom side. It is always necessary for a football club to be able to implement a ”Plan B” in the face of apparent adversity, and I hope we are able to do so with the change coming in the style of more passing direct football. While I value greatly Sidibe’s workload and contribution to the team, I cannot help but feel that his absence could pave the way for new life to be breathed into the Stoke side that has seemed so flat of late, with the exception of the second half performance at Newcastle. But then again, we could flounder horribly without the services of one of our most influential players. Time will tell, starting with a trip to struggling Blackburn on Saturday.
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