Whilst the prospect of a long trip to the Ukraine to play their opening game of Europa League Group E was unlikely to have been of the most appealing variety, the travelling Stoke City party deserved to find their journey home a little easier to embrace given that they embarked upon it having achieved a credible 1-1 draw in the Lobanovskyi Dynamo Stadium against Dynamo Kiev.
Indeed the Potters were only denied victory by conceding an equaliser in the last minute of normal time, after debutant Cameron Jerome’s deft finish had given them the lead early in the 2nd half. The inevitable feelings of frustration Tony Pulis and his players will experience when reflecting on just how close they were to shutting Kiev out, however, ought to be tempered by the realisation that their unbeaten start to the season has now been extended to nine games.
Pulis made several changes to the side which defeated Liverpool 1-0 in the Premier League, as the Welshman rotated his squad in a manner he perceived compatible with maximising Stoke’s chances of recording positive results against both Kiev and Sunderland, who the Potters will face in the Premier League on Sunday less than 72 hours after leaving the field of play in the Ukraine. An implication of these personnel changes, was a subtle adjustment of Stoke’s formation, as Pulis opted to start with a back five, which performed admirably in containing Kiev’s attacking threat, to make veteran Danish goal-keeper Thomas Sorenson’s, who deputised for the resting Asmir Begovic, night a lot quieter than it could have been.
Two common denominators in a rearguard action, which has at times this season appeared impenetrable, have been captain Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth, who once again performed resolutely in Kiev alongside Matthew Upson. The only downside of the central defensive trio’s input to the game, was that they all received bookings, although on each occasion it could be argued these were taken for the benefit of the team and this is exactly what Stoke continue to resemble under the stewardship of Pulis. A team who adopt a selfless and determined approach in playing for one another, a perfect illustration of which was given against Kiev, to ensure the momentum that Stoke have built up during their fine early season form remains uninterrupted going into Sunday’s away game at Sunderland.
Given that record signing Peter Crouch did not travel with his new colleagues to Kiev, the exact reason for which is unclear, Pulis will be hopeful of having the striker fit and available to select for the trip to Wear-side. Marc Wilson, Rory Delap and Matthew Etherington also sat out the Potters most recent Europa League outing due to injuries aggravated in last weekends win over Liverpool but are all believed to have a reasonable chance of recovering suitably to feature against Sunderland, with Asmir Begovic almost certain regain his place in the starting XI.
Although Stoke have never beaten Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, since it’s opening in 1997, Sunday’s game represents a fantastic chance for them to end this unenviable record and maintain their early season assault on the top places in the Premier League.
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