Not so boring, Stoke a better example for football than you think
It was the perfect game-plan. Too often Tony Pulis and his Stoke side are criticised for negative and ugly football. Yet, today they ended any lingering hopes Arsenal had of battling to a first League title in seven seasons with an impressive 3-1 victory.
For Pulis, it was a wonderful result ahead of the F.A Cup final against Manchester City next Saturday. For his frustrated counter-part Arsene Wenger, it was another night left ruing their newly-found foe from Staffordshire who just can’t fail to get under his skin.
Having now lost three of the last four meetings at the Britannia Stadium, its clear this particular trip up-north is not a happy one for the Frenchman. Wenger has referred to Pulis and his team in many derogatory ways, dismissing the way they play the game, whilst famously branding them a “rugby team”.
Yet as the thousands of home fans pointed out earlier today when the Potters took the lead, they couldn’t care less, singing “1-0 to the rugby side”. After all, however they play, they are getting results.
Pulis’ master-plan in this one, resulted in Arsenal falling straight into his trap. With the Gunners dominating possession, Stoke defended deep allowing the visitors as much time as they wanted in the middle third but limiting any space they could have exploited in-and-around the penalty area. With two banks of four protecting Asmir Begovic in goal, Stoke let their title-chasing visitors enjoy pass after pass but as soon as their move eventually broke down, Pulis’ men played to their strengths and threatened on directly on the counter-attack, moving the ball quickly up the pitch to put pressure on their opponents and force Wenger’s side back into their own half.
It helps when you can score from set-pieces as well, and facing a team notoriously poor at defending free-kicks and corners (plus throw-ins when you’re at the Britannia), it was inevitable that Kenwyne Jones’ opener would come from a Jermaine Pennant dead-ball.
After Pennant had doubled the lead, the two teams went into the break with Arsenal having over 60% of the possession, yet no goals on their half of the score-line.
When they finally did score through Robin van Persie, it could have been easy for Stoke to crumble and lose their lead entirely. After all, they’ve got nothing to play for ahead of their trip to Wembley. Not this lot though, they scored within seconds to secure their win, their attitude and fight showing they were far too proud to give anything away.
Stoke deserve a lot more credit for their set-up. They are extremely good at what they do, and in centre-backs Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth, they have two defenders developed in a typically English way, the mould in which an old-fashioned centre-half will get in the way of everything and lead from the back, the type of player Arsenal desperately need if they are going to have any chance of winning silverware next season.
In midfield they have players with high energy levels, on this occasion Dean Whitehead and Rory Delap, who will fight for every second-ball before laying possession on to more creative team-mates. This is where Stoke shine, as they are not just a hit and hope outfit, they have genuine match-winners with real quality. Pennant has been a revelation since joining at the start of the season, and in Matthew Etherington, they have a player completely revitalised by regular first-team football, the demons of his gambling woes well and truly banished. If Etherington is fit for next week’s finale, the Potters have a serious chance of causing an upset.
Up-front Jonathan Walters has proved himself at the highest level and looks good business in today’s market at £2.75m, his reputation further enhanced when he poked home his team’s third. His partner Jones has often been described as lazy, but his athleticism and stature makes him a huge threat for the aerial battles guaranteed when you pull-on a red and white shirt. Plus he is scoring goals again; five in his last six games makes him a huge problem for City in six days time.
No matter what is said about them, Stoke are a perfect example of a club playing to their strengths, whilst to those who have called them boring, they’ve been involved in just one goalless draw all season.
At times, Pulis’ team play neat, attractive football and the label comes only as a result of the option possessed by Delap’s long throw. Yet, most sides across the U.K now deploy a long-throw specialist and Stoke are merely the scapegoat under the premises that they introduced such “long-ball” tactics.
But what works, works and as a result of their strategies, Stoke are safely in the top-half of the Premiership and all-but certain of a place in Europe next season due to their cup run and Manchester City’s top-four position. More importantly though, for the first time since 1972, they have a chance of getting their hands on a long-awaited trophy.
And that’s more than you can say for Arsenal.
Submitted by Two Liverpool Fans
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