Blog: Stoke City, more than just a long-ball team

Stoke’s very nuanced brand of football, often dismissed as ‘hoof-ball’ by the media and opposing fans alike, has seen them rise from Championship also-rans to Premier League mainstays in three short years. Greg Simkins challenges the commonly held belief that Stoke are long-ball merchants, arguing that the Staffordshire side have begun to add style to their substance.

Few would have expected the ever-enigmatic Jermaine Pennant– just three months into his loan spell – to have already had such an impact at the Brittania Stadium. The skilful right-winger has been long regarded as something of a luxury player; the defensive side of his game had been roundly criticised during his stints at Arsenal, Birmingham and Liverpool. However, under the tutelage of Tony Pulis, Pennant has added a dogmatic defensive ethic to his speedy surges forward – a trait evidenced in his contribution to his side’s 2-0 defeat of Liverpool on Saturday. Pennant endured a relatively torrid time abroad after joining Real Zaragoza in the summer of 2009. Now back on familiar shores, the man who cost Arsene Wenger £2 million as a 15 year old is once more enjoying his football, teasing and turning defenders in what many view as a typically ‘un-Stoke’ manner.

Ricardo Fuller, of course, would take umbrage with such an assertion; the 31-year-old Jamaican-born striker seems to get better with age. Now restored to the starting line-up in place of summer signing Jonathan Walters, Fuller is once more showing the form that has seen him attain ‘cult’ status amongst the Stoke faithful. His goal against Liverpool, uncharacteristic only insomuch as it was unspectacular, demonstrated his value to the team – coming just days after a more characteristic wonder-strike against Birmingham. Now lining up in tandem with £8 million man Kenwyne Jones, Fuller will presumably be looking to match his impressive 2008 total of 11 league goals.

Fuller and Pennant act as the perfect foils for the more combative members of the squad, future England captain Ryan Shawcross’ no-nonsense approach has seen him repeatedly draw criticism from Arsene Wenger, while the sheer physicality of Kenwyne Jones and Robert Huth suggests where their strengths lie. But, even in the case of Huth and Jones (who, tellingly, both notched goals via their feet last week), Stoke are so much more than an overly-physical long-ball side. Pulis has commendably integrated graft and guile to turn the Potters into a competent mid-table outfit, one which – with continued backing from Peter Coates – should remain so far a very long time.

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