Tactic Talk – Static Stoke lack last year’s defensive steel

Stoke City slumped to their sixth defeat of the season after surrendering a one-goal advantage to go down 3-2 at home to Queens Park Rangers. In a disappointing afternoon at the Britannia Stadium, Stoke manager Tony Pulis will be looking to improve on a defensive display which saw three goals conceded at home, each of which will give Potters boss Pulis identical reasons to question his backline.

Having taken the lead with an early Jonathan Walters strike, the visitors hit back 14 minutes later. After a committed run down the left from Armand Traore, his cross was met by the unmarked head of Heidar Helguson to put Rangers on level terms. Having wandered in from the left unchallenged, Helgusson’s strike was not the first exposure of Stoke’s defensive vulnerability.

On the stroke of half-time, Rangers again looked impressive from wide, this time with Jamie Mackie on the right-hand side, his low pass picked out Luke Young in the heart of the hosts’ penalty area, who reacted first to fire home unchallenged, putting Rangers in front with the right-back’s first goal for the visitors since his arrival from Aston Villa.

After the interval, Stoke were again undone in a similar fashion. Another ball from the flank, this time from Joey Barton, into the Stoke penalty box was met by the on-rushing Helguson, beating his marker to the ball to prod home his second goal of the game.

Despite Ryan Shawcross pulling a goal back for Stoke, the three defensive lapses ultimately cost Stoke the points, condemning them to their fourth consecutive defeat. On this occasion, The Potters will undoubtedly look to their defensive frailty, conceding three comparable goals, with three different scorers arriving in the Stoke penalty area to meet deliveries, under little or no pressure from Stoke defenders.

With just one win in their last six league matches, Stoke have so far conceded 22 goals from 12 matches. Although they sit in 14th place, just a single place below their final position last season, by which time Stoke conceded a total of 48 goals. With a third of the campaign played, Stoke’s defence would appear to be lacking the stubborn resistance that saw them establish themselves in the Premier League, as well as last season’s FA Cup Final appearance, which earned City Europa League qualification.

Their latest defeat showed a lack of mobility and alertness in a Stoke defence famed for size and power, beaten to crosses on three occasions by opposing players, the visitors looked to have exposed a weakness in a Stoke side who have earned a reputation for being difficult to compete with, particularly at home.

While Potters fans will feel the season is by no means irretrievable, this latest setback in their domestic form has shown flaws in Stoke’s defence. Having conceded just four goals at home prior to this game, Pulis’ side will be looking to address this apparent defensive weakness in an effort to improve their league form.

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