Here are my thoughts on the game that could ultimately be the one we say kept us up.
A massive win
From these two home games in the last week against Newcastle and Blackburn, I, like most, said that four points should be enough to effectively seal our survival. With fifteen minutes to go, it seemed we were heading for a dull 0-0 draw, that would mean we had taken only two points from the two games and kept the pressure right on us. It was extra good to get the goal and the win then yesterday, as it means we can really enjoy our remaining games, safe in the knowledge that we are very, very unlikely to go down.
An awful game
Particularly first half, it really was a dreadful game. Blackburn didn’t have a shot on target all match, and we were little better. In the second half we did kick on a bit, and I’m just glad we got the goal. In the position we’re in, three points is more important that the performance any day.
Learning from our mistakes?
Last week, 1-0 up against Newcastle in the closing stages of the game, we sat back far too much, inviting pressure onto us and paying the price as they scored an equaliser. This week, we sadly did the same, inviting pressure onto us and making defensive substitutions after we took the lead. It’s lucky that Blackburn’s attacking players were off form on the day, or we may well have been punished again. I know it’s unreasonable to expect us to attack vigourously with a one goal lead in the final minutes of a game, but it’s very frustrating to watch eleven men behind the ball inviting pressure onto them when all too many times we have seen goals conceded in this way. When Manchester United came to Stoke, they took the lead with ten minutes left, and did they sit back on the lead and invite pressure onto them? No, they kept possession of the ball well and barely gave us a sniff. Though I hate to say it, we could learn a lot from them.
The Players’ Passion
It was fantastic to see the passion of our players at the final whistle. Abdoulaye Faye, who seems to have made the right choice in wishing to stay at Stoke despite interest from Blackburn in January, charged all the way round the pitch with a look of absolute glee on his face, while Thomas Sorensen executed his usual jumping up behind various people and then hugging them routine. While we don’t have the most technically gifted squad in the league, their togetherness and passion has contributed a lot to what we have achieved this season.
Who said Premier League footballers only care about the money?
Drunk on his own sense of Poward Webb?
I was happy when I heard that the referee for yesterday’s game was to be Howard Webb, the referee generally accepted as the best we have and usually chosen by the FA to take control of the most important games. I was though, very disappointed by his performance. He was very inconsistent, one minute giving a foul for a challenge, the next waving play on, playing bizarre advantages, and turning down what looked like a good shout for a penalty for Stoke. I used to rate him highly as a referee, but I now think all the limelight he’s been getting may have got to his head a bit. No-one’s bigger than the game, especially not the referee.
Blackburn defended well throughout almost all of the game, it’s a pity for them they were nothing like so good at the other end of the pitch. With a bluntness in attack at the Britannia Stadium only rivalled this season by Manchester City, there’s little doubt in my mind why they are in the trouble they are if they attack like this regularly. I expected far more from the likes of Morten Gamst Pedersen, El Hadji Diouf and Benni McCarthy, but I thought all were poor.
It looks like trouble for Big Sam
Thomas Sorensen (gk): Despite Blackburn nt having a shot on target, Sorensen had a pretty good game, dealing well with an aerial bombardment. He opted to punch more than claim ball in the air, and while no fan likes to see this in a goalkeeper, all his punches were very good ones, so I’m happy for him to do it. He did make a smart stop early on when Faye’s back header looked like looping over him for an embarrassing own goal. 7
Andy Wilkinson (rb): Before he was taken off with a recurrence of his back problem early in the second half, Wilko had a solid if not eye catching game, dealing pretty well with all he faced. He was, however, once again booked for a reckless tackle on El Hadji Diouf. While I appreciate that Diouf is the kind of player you just want to launch into a challenge on, and Wilkinson’s commitmentnt and physicality is the cornerstone of his game, it seems that every game he does a tackle like this, and it is an aspect of his play he should try to curb. 6
Ryan Shawcross (cb): Another solid performance from Shawcross saw him earn a deserved clean sheet. He was strong in the air and positionally good all game. 7
Abdoulaye Faye (cb): Stoke’s on-pitch captain was once again superb. He won almost everything in the air, was assured with the ball at his feet and made some good tackles. If he doesn’t win player of the season, something has gone very wrong. 8
Danny Higginbotham (lb): Higginbotham had quite a quiet game, though he didn’t do anything particularly wrong. He did put in a decent ball that led to our goal. 6
Liam Lawrence (rm):Another good game for the improving Lawrence, which was capped by his very well taken goal. As his fitness returns I am hopeful that he can become as important to the team in the Premier League as he was in the Championship last season. 7
Glenn Whelan (cm): Whelan had a reasonably good game in the centre of midfield. He tends to drift in and out of games so at times he looked dangerous, at others he was anonymous. 6
Rory Delap (cm): Delap had a sound game defensively, but didn’t really offer a great deal going forward. Blackburn lacked pace in defence and I wish we had got the midfield forward more often to exploit this. His long throws weren’t on great form either, with none of them causing problems. Still, it’s the one thing Match of the Day want to talk about. 6
Matthew Etherington (lm): I though Etherington had his worst game yet for Stoke. He got very little change out of Blackburn’s Andre Ooijer throughout a game he struggled to make his mark on. For the third game in a row he missed a good scoring chance when he put a second half header wide, but i am enthused that our wingers are getting in to positions to score goals. Hopefully Etherington will be able to break his Stoke duck soon. 5
James Beattie (cf): Beattie wasn’t quite fit, and it showed, as he visibly tired as the game wore on. He still caused the Blackburn backline a few problems though, and was crucially involved in our gaol when he knocked down Higginbotham’s cross well for Lawrence. 6
Ricardo Fuller (cf): Generally, if Fuller gets a free-kick his way inside the first five minutes, he’ll have a good game, if he doesn’t, he’ll sulk and won’t. Unfortunately the latter was the case yesterday as he at times floundered around the pitch. He seems unwilling to play the easy ball all too often and does seem to be looking for a penalty whenever he gets into the opposing team’s box. 5
Stephen Kelly (rb): Coming on for Wilkinson, Kelly had a reasonable forty minutes, neither doing anything really wrong nor particularly catching the eye. 6
Richard Cresswell (cf): Cresswell made another cameo appearance, and failed to impress again, though he didn’t really have much chance to. I wonder why we even brought in Henri Camara if we were just going to play Cresswell ahead of him. Though Camara was carrying a knock and Pulis would probably try to protect him, so why then was he even on the bench? N/A
Ibrahima Sonko (cb): Sonko is probably the worst footballer with his feet in the Premier League and it showed as he got himself in a potentially very dangerous muddle towards the end of the game. He is very good in the air though, and made an excellent headed clearance under pressure in the closing moments. N/A
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