The stats now read rather differently for Stoke City and manager Tony Pulis. Having previously been praised for their unbeaten start to their Premier League season after four consecutive draws, Saturday’s defeat at league leaders Chelsea – thanks to Ashley Cole’s late winner – now sees the Potters without a win in five matches, six if you include the defeat to League One side Swindon in the Capital One Cup. What had been a satisfactory start to the season is now in danger of turning sour with trips to Liverpool and Manchester United coming up in the next three games.
However, Pulis will be experienced enough not to panic just yet. While it has not been the most explosive start to the season they have faced Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea in their opening five games, as well as a trip to newly-promoted Reading on the opening day that was never going to be easy. Indeed, Pulis will certainly be targeting three points in next week’s home match at the Britannia Stadium against a Swansea side that having started the season so well, are now without a win in three and were hammered at home to Everton on Saturday.
Within the Chelsea defeat, Pulis and the Stoke supporters will have taken a range of positives from the display, despite ultimately falling foul of Cole’s winner. It would be fair to say that bar a few saves from the again impressive Asmir Begovic in goal, Stoke were relatively untroubled by a Chelsea forward line that contained the likes of Fernando Torres, Eden Hazard, Oscar and Juan Mata. Defensively, the partnership of Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross at centre-back continues to pay dividends.
In midfield, Pulis will have been impressed by the battling qualities shown by summer signings Steven N’Zonzi and Charlie Adam, whose delivery with a dead ball always threatened to cause problems. There was also a welcome return for Matthew Etherington, a player who Stoke and Pulis depend so much on and who could form a fearsome wing partnership with Michael Kightly, who had a sprightly game on the flanks.
Where Pulis will perhaps be a little concerned is up front. Stoke never really looked like troubling the Chelsea goalkeeper bar a Jon Walters header that flashed against the post, while Peter Crouch had a poor afternoon. Michael Owen was given a good 30 minutes or so from the bench but failed to get the opportunity he craved while even Kenwyne Jones was given a run out, albeit a quiet one.
Pulis will fancy his chances against Swansea’s artistry next week. Expect Stoke’s rough and tumble to come to the fore and at the Britannia, backed by their home support, the Potters may have enough to deal with a Swans side struggling for confidence. Pulis will still want a little more from his strikers though if they are to escape relegation trouble this season.
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