Club Focus – Stoke – Is Kenwyne Jones the missing piece of the Pulis puzzle?

So after a summer-long, exhaustive search, Stoke City finally have their big money striker – and it turned out to be the man they had wanted all along. After a brief spell on loan at the Britannia Stadium five years ago, and being linked with a move to the Potteries in each of the last two transfer windows, Kenwyne Jones is finally a Potter once more. While perhaps not as high-profile a signing as some of the other strikers linked with the club in recent weeks, such as Loic Remy and Carlton Cole, the move still represents something of a coup for the Midlanders, capturing a player who had regularly been touted for a move to the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham over the last 18 months. The £8m fee, while almost double Stoke’s previous transfer record, is a reasonably modest sum, just £2m more than Sunderland shelled out for him in 2007 as a Championship striker unproven in the Premier League.

Most importantly for the Potters, Pulis finally seems to have found a long-term target man to replace the hard-working but limited Mama Sidibe. The position has been a problem ever since Stoke reached the Premier League, with neither James Beattie nor Dave Kitson proving consistently effective enough to usurp the much-maligned Malian. Jones, however, should have more luck. Boasting the strength, aerial ability and all-round “nuisance factor” required of any striker hoping to be a success in the withdrawn striker position that provides the focal point of the Potters’ direct style of play. Moreover, his pace, mobility and ability to link the ball well with the ball at his feet, suggest that he could very well turn out to be the mythical “footballing target man” to dignal the long-awaited evolution of the team’s tactics. The presence of a more gifted forward in the team encourages a more varied range of passing, rather than the constant bombardment towards Sidibe’s head that has very much been Stoke’s “Plan A” in recent years. The rare spells of form enjoyed by Kitson highlighted the potential of using a more elegant player in what was been christened “the Mama role” by supporters, as Stoke created more chances and retained possession more effectively. The arrival of Jones should bring these qualities to the side far more regularly, as well as having the strength and height to bully defenders and latch onto Rory Delap’s long throws. On the surface at least, the former Sunderland man offers an ideal blend of skill and brawn.

Perhaps Stoke’s new number nine will also be key to bringing the best out of Tuncay (assuming the Turk stays in the Potteries this summer). The Turk’s best position is widely acknowledged to be in the hole just behind the forwards, and Jones’ pace lends itself to leading the line. Pulis might be able to invert his normal system, with Tuncay just behind Jones, but having the taller man drop deeper himself on occasion to win the balls in the air, allowing Tuncay to run beyond him. This could bring the wide players into attacking positions to really pile pressure on the opposition in the final third. Such an option could be the much-vaunted “Plan B” to add an extra dimension when Stoke’s normal game plan is not succeeding.

Inevitably, the striker’s unhappy departure from the Stadium of Light has raised some concerns. Although the Sunderland message boards were full of mackems going through the five stages of grief at his exit, others have questioned his attitude and work ethic, while Steve Bruce’s willingness to jettison him, and his parting shot at Jones’ “inconsistency” might appear to support this. Others point to his somewhat modest goal scoring record for a player of his valuation, and his prior spell in the Potteries left few Boothen Enders particularly enamoured of his abilities.

The so-called “Mama” role can have a tendency to shackle players, and the club record fee means that pressure will be on Jones to adapt sooner rather than later. However, the withdrawn striker in Stoke’s set up has never been primarily about scoring goals, but about the player’s overall contribution to the teams’s attacking (and to an extent, defensive) play. While he might not have been prolific, his ability to consistently hover around the 10 goals mark in a mediocre team can only be good news for a Potters team among the most goal shy in the top flight last term.

The prospect of a Jones/Fuller all-Caribbean strike force lining up at Molinieux this weekend has fired the imagination ofsupporters previously disillusioned at the lack of transfer activity thus far this window. The “Mama role” looks set to become “the Kenwyne role” – and the prodigal son now has the chance to prove himself the hero that Stoke City have been holding out for.

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