Club Focus – Stoke City – Tuncay and the problem with impact subs

Stoke City left it late to extend their unbeaten run to four games, as Matthew Etherington’s 92nd minute equaliser proved no more than the Potters deserved in snatching a point against the millionaires of Manchester City. The key moment in the build up to the goal was an outrageous back heel from substitute Tuncay that befuddled the City defence, allowing Etherington to slot home.

There has been much talk of ‘impact subs’ this season at the Britannia Stadium, usually centring around Ricardo Fuller. Tony Pulis has at times been reluctant to start the Jamaican, preferring to unleash him from the bench around the hour mark. This has worked to an extent, and the wins against Aston Villa and Newcastle United owed much to Fuller’s influence. Without him, however, the Midlanders look bereft of attacking verve, and it is no coincidence they have gone behind in all but one of the games that Fuller has not started this term, and possess the worst first half record and best second half record in the entire Premier League. The former Preston North End striker’s return to the starting line up against Birmingham City at the start of the month underlined his value. Having scored just once during the three games for which Fuller was unavailable due to a shoulder injury, they went on to score eight in their next three with their talisman restored.

As one of the most popular players at the club, Tuncay’s lack of starts has been a source of frustration to many Stoke fans. Yet although he has played well in the games he has started this season – accommodated in his favoured position behind the striker no less – the team has created very few scoring opportunities, six shots on target in the defeats to Sunderland and Everton combined. Conversely, he has proven influential when introduced as a substitute, lifting the team’s performance against Tottenham Hotspur, scoring a tremendous goal against Manchester United, and having a hand in goals against West Bromwich Albion and Manchester City. The Turk’s invention, versatility and energy, injected at later stages when tiring legs open up games that bit extra, maximise his effectiveness in a way not seen when he is utilised from the start.

It seems unlikely that Tuncay will be prepared to accept such a bit part role for too much longer, however, and he should have no shortage of admirers were he to express a desire to leave in search of regular football, be it in January or at the end of the season. Having flattered to deceive during his first season at the club, his performances in this campaign to date have been stellar. All parties will be disappointed that, one way or another, the Tuncay/Stoke union seems destined to end in divorce. The club’s management are doubtless keen, if he does leave in the new year, to have some kind of say into his destination – in the tightest top flight for years, the prospect of the Turk returning to haunt the Potters could come at a cost greater than mere embarrassment.

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