Stoke Club Focus – Pulis must continue to look for answers to defensive slump

Saturday’s 3-2 home loss to QPR represented Stoke’s fourth consecutive Premier League defeat, a run during which they have conceded 14 goals and failed to get anywhere near to producing the form shown at the outset of the current campaign. No doubt Tony Pulis will be concerned about his team’s present plight, but he will be more focused on finding a solution to avoid a repeat performance when Stoke host Blackburn at the Britannia on Saturday.

The defensive frailties that plagued Stoke in their games just prior to the recent international break were again apparent against QPR and duly punished by the London side. Since Stoke were denied what appeared to be two clear penalties at crucial moments in the game, it would be blind ignorance to suggest that inept defending was the sole cause of Stoke’s downfall on Saturday. Nevertheless it was unquestionably one of the, if not the, major contributing factor.

Whilst Stoke have hardly ever been charitable or generous to opponents under the guidance of Pulis, at present they are surrendering easy goals at an alarming rate. The Potters’ leaky defence of late is in stark contrast to the impressive defensive record they boasted at the start of the season, which saw them concede just one goal in their first four games.

An authoritative, solid rearguard action which was nigh on impenetrable has been infiltrated by indecision over recent weeks, with QPR’s Heidar Helguson the latest player to take advantage of this by punishing Stoke’s defensive hesitancy with two goals on Saturday. The type of advances on Stoke’s goal which were previously being dismissed with relative ease by the likes of Ryan Shawcross, Robert Huth & Jonathan Woodgate, are at present producing success for opponents and subsequently much frustration for Pulis. As destructive as these problems are proving to be to Stoke‘s current fortunes, Pulis needs to find a solution and find one quickly. He can start by instructing his talented group of players to focus on satisfying some basics of defending – communicate, stay compact and don’t ball watch.

Understandably, many Stoke fans may ask why the team’s defensive problems were not resolved during the recent international break – when Pulis had virtually an uninterrupted fortnight’s training with the overwhelming majority of his squad – and put into effect against QPR? For a team to go out and apply the basics of the game to a high enough standard to achieve positive results at Premier League level requires a high degree of confidence. At the moment Stoke do not look like a side that has this. Therefore, continuing to work extensively with his players on the training ground this week to rebuild their confidence, must rank extremely high on the list of priorities Pulis will be keen to address ahead of Blackburn’s visit to the Britannia on Saturday.

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