Club Focus – Stoke City – Desperately seeking strikers

The exciting 3-2 defeat of Fulham last Tuesday saw Stoke City’s forwards finally stake their claim ahead of the usual flurry of January transfer activity at the Britannia Stadium. Prior to the defeat of the Cottagers at a snowy Britannia Stadium, the Potters’ strike force had mustered just two goals between them in their last seven Premier League games.

However, Tuncay’s goal and influential display against Fulham suggested that his emerging status as a fans’ favourite is fully warranted. Tony Pulis will be relieved that the hamstring strain which forced the Turk off after just 40 minutes is not as serious as initially feared. Mama Sidibe’s fine finish capped off his best performance of the season so far, while Ricardo Fuller’s pace and trickery after replacing Sanli ensured there was little respite for Fulham’s beleaguered defenders. Nevertheless, the Stoke boss is expected to bolster his attacking options. This is not surprising given that the Potters’ shooting accuracy is the poorest in the Premier League. One player perhaps surprisingly linked in recent weeks is Wigan’s star striker Hugo Rodallega.

With little money currently available to Roberto Martinez for new players, it is believed that the Latics are reluctantly prepared to listen to offers for the impressive Colombian. Stoke and newly-rich Birmingham are believed to be battling it out for Rodallega, with several expected departures from the Britannia Stadium going some way towards financing the rumoured £10m fee. While the arrival of Rodallega, with seven goals already this season, would be a statement of the Potteries club’s ambition, he arguably isn’t the type of striker they require. Pulis, during both spells in the Stoke hot seat, has preferred to play with a strike duo featuring a quick, creative striker playing just ahead of a target man.

Tuncay has been deployed with some success in recent weeks in the role of the out-and-out striker, and Fuller has been integral to Stoke’s success when operating in this position in the past. It is therefore arguable that there is little room for the 5’11” Rodallega, and that the Potters are already well stocked when it comes to forwards of the Colombian’s ilk. Similarly, Stoke Chairman Peter Coates’ confirmation that Stoke are monitoring Ruud van Nistelrooy’s situation has met with a mixed response from Stoke supporters which might surprise the neutral. While the prolific Dutch star is undoubtedly one of the greatest goalscorers of the past decade and is unlikely to even consider swapping Madrid for the delights of Stoke-on-Trent, it could again be argued that van Nistelrooy is not the kind of forward who would flourish within Stoke’s rigid system.

Only Hull have created fewer scoring opportunities than the Potters this season, and a poacher in the Van Nistelrooy mould might struggle when reduced to feeding off scraps. Factor in the former Manchester United hero’s long-standing injury problems and it adds up to a gamble which is probably not worth taking. This writer firmly believes that a pacy, mobile target man should be Tony Pulis’ chief priority as he searches for a new attacker. The likely exits this January of both James Beattie and Dave Kitson will leave Sidibe as the only remaining forward of this type at the club. The Malian has been an excellent servant to the Midlanders, but in spite of an improved display against Fulham, he ultimately lacks the quality required to be a regular starter at Premier League level.

Kenwyne Jones is faster and rivals Sidibe in terms of physical presence as well as a much greater goal threat. However, an audacious £12m move for the Trinidad and Tobago international appears to have been scuppered by Sunderland’s failure to sign a replacement in the form of Schalke’s Kevin Kuranyi. A loan deal with Zamalek for Amr Zaki has also been mooted, but the rank unprofessionalism the Egyptian demonstrated during the dying embers of his stay at Wigan is likely to deter Pulis. The Stoke manager has often stated his preference for players with “the right DNA” off the pitch, and this is a test which Zaki emphatically fails.

Elsewhere, there are whispers that the Midlanders have opened discussions with Manchester City. While a loan deal for Roque Santa Cruz would be a tremendous coup, a move for non-scoring Zimbabwean Benjani Mwaruwari would meet with considerably less enthusiasm from the Boothen End faithful. Looking overseas, the prospect of Nikola Zigic latching onto Rory Delap’s long throws has had many a Potters fan foaming at the mouth in anticipation, and Stoke have monitored the Valencia man’s situation since they were promoted almost two years ago. 6’7” Brazillian Washington Da Silva, who plays his football in Serbia for Partizan Belgrade, has also been mentioned as a possible target. It seems likely that Tony Pulis’ wheeler-dealing will again come to the fore this month, and a few surprises will be sprung. The strike duo pulling on the famous red and white stripes at the end of January could be decidedly different from those who started it.

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