Tony Pulis spoke positively in the week about Stoke’s evolving style since their promotion to the Premier League back in 2008, but you would have to say it looked as if the Potters had gone back a couple of steps as they played out a dour 0-0 draw with Sunderland at the Britannia Stadium.
The fixture had been looked forward to with relish in the week before as Stoke, having finally moved past their horror fixture list which saw them take on four of the Premier League big boys in the first eight games, targeted victory to get their season up and running, much like the 2-0 win at home to Swansea earlier in the campaign.
However, to be frank, the Potters got nowhere near it and, in fact, were lucky to come away with a point after Robert Huth handled a Steven Fletcher shot in the second-half inside the penalty area, which on another day could easily have been given as a penalty.
So what is the problem at the Britannia at the moment? Certainly there are mitigating circumstances. The injury sustained to Marc Wilson, as Arsenal have unfortunately found out in recent years, does knock a team’s confidence and ability to play good football.
Furthermore, Sunderland have been notoriously tough to play against this season and have already been called ‘draw-specialists’. Indeed, with only Fletcher up front, the Black Cats often seemed to be more than happy to come away with a point.
However, they are certainly not the first team to have come to the Britannia seeking to contain the hosts. The difference is that in the past, Pulis’ battering, all-action style has been more than enough to break down such barriers.
Sunderland was no isolated example either. The visit of Arsenal earlier in the season saw a similarly subdued performance. Perhaps with the pressure being off Stoke in all their heavyweight encounters, the players struggled to come to terms with the feeling that they were favourites. Pulis’ men have often hit teams on the counter-attack so it is a sign of the respect their Premier League rivals now have for the Potters that they are now coming to the Britannia in search of a point rather than all three.
Pulis would also perhaps admit that he made a mistake in his selection choices. Matthew Etherington may be continuing to feel his way back from injury but there is no doubt that he may have been able to provide a little more penetration on the flanks than the rather functional Dean Whitehead.
Additionally, Pulis arguably waited too late to make some attacking changes, only bringing on Etherington and Michael Owen with less than a quarter of the game to go. With Peter Crouch not having one of his better days, it surely made more sense to give him a little more support sooner.
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