STOKE CITY FC 3 SOUTHAMPTON 3
Now we've been looking on from a distance at the 'cricket' scores being notched up in other Premiership games this season,and thinking...not us,its not how we do things at Stoke City. Miserly in defence, low scoring in attack,but an eminently effective and successful strategy to move us forward.
Have things changed in the last four days , have we become just like the others? Liverpool had the cheek to score first on Wednesday night, and paid the price. The Potteries finest raised their game, put the visitors to the sword,and in the process scored THREE goals....in one game. Not really a cricket score by others standards,but maybe it was by ours. Superlative football.
But things were different yesterday,we edged into the realm of the cricket score. You could recognise at The Brit the root causes that Messrs Hansen and Lawrenson identify in high scoring matches, prime among which was poor defending.
So what happened? In the first half we were not as dire as some would suggest,but we were pretty poor. The well oiled defensive machine coughed,spluttered, but did not fire up. The explanation is not as simple as 'Shawcross and Cameron were missing'.We should have been able to take on a poor Southampton side without them,as later events proved.
Upson is not Shawcross,but for my money once he settled he had a good game. Captain for the day Huth was definitely uncomfortable without his usual partner,and did not have one of his better first halves. Wilkinson, after a brilliant performance against Liverpool, was seriously out of sorts. It is a long time since we saw so many instances of two Stoke players colliding going for the same man or uncertainty to the point where two players left the ball to each other,for an opponent to collect whilst they looked at each other. Crucially in two of the Southampton goals communication seemed to breakdown between keeper Begovic and his back line.
Southampton's game plan was set up to exploit our changes,moving the ball down the flanks,and loading as many crosses in as possible. For their first goal De Prado was given time and space out on the left,his cross netted by an unattended Lambert. For the second Lambert crossed from the right into the six yard box. Nine times out of ten Begovic would have claimed the easy ball,but Huth poked the ball up against his own bar,from which it dropped leaving Rodriguez an unmissable one yard finish.The third goal saw Wilkinson knee(?) Lambert's header into his own net. Again Begovic seemed well placed, and on another day would have taken charge.
What of Stoke going forward in the first half? Well Kenwyne Jones continued his renaissance. Having missed a sitter/sighter,he equalised Southampton's first goal,with an exquisite back heal into the net from Shotton's low ball in from the right. Not much else to report.
The real fireworks came in the second period. On the way home from the ground Nigel Johnson on Radio Stoke pointedly asked Manager Pulis what he had said in the dressing room at halftime. His answer ..” Can't remember!” Well most of us present would be able to make a pretty shrewd guess at what he said, and from what we saw the team certainly did remember!
Second half...all Stoke, first with 11 men then with 10. With Stoke pushing forward,and the score 1-3 Southampton had a gilt edged chance .Following a defensive mistake Begovic saved Rodriguez shot with his legs,but was powerless as De Prado shot wide of the open goal.
Minutes later Stoke reduced the deficit. Building pressure through throw ins and corners finally paid off. A Whelan corner dropped into the visitors penalty area,cue pinball,with Upson shooting through the crowd into the net. Four minutes later the task became more difficult for the Potters when N'Zonzi was sent off for allegedly stamping on Cork.(TV showed no contact was made but the clear intent was there.)
For the closing stages Stoke had four strikers on the pitch,Jones and Walters and earlier sub Jerome, being joined by Crouch.He it was who provided the knowhow to unpick the Southampton defence,such as it was.First, a flick on set Jerome free to lob the ball into the net but this was rightly ruled offside. Second,Crouch chested a Jones flick into the path of Jerome.
Jerome came onto the ball, from 30 yards out,smashed it goalwards,whence it went into the net off the crossbar. A glorious moment to be at the Brit,with massive celebration to follow. In substantial added on time Crouch came close to giving us the win that had seemed so improbable at halftime his clever downward header pushed away somewhat awkwardly by keeper Davis.
Value for money entertainment? Definitely. Six goals scored in two games. Still 8th in the table. Need more points to stay up though....let's have a real crack at Manchester City!