Saturday’s disappointing defeat at Norwich may not be the headline maker of the weekend’s Premier League action, but for Stoke City and manager Tony Pulis, it could prove to be a watershed moment in the Potters’ season.
Having gone into the clash at home to Sunderland last week full of confidence after promising performances against the likes of Manchester City and Manchester United, Pulis’ men were expected to make light work of the visit of the Black Cats and then their trip to Carrow Road, to finally give them the points that their previous hard work this season had merited.
However, 180 minutes later, the Potters have only one point, no goals and two very disappointing displays to shout about. The goalless draw with Sunderland was strange enough considering Stoke’s lack of intensity, particularly in their attacking play, and Pulis will have expected a reaction from his side against Norwich, who may have improved recently but remain on paper one of the weakest teams in the Premier League.
However, the 90 minutes saw many of the same weaknesses exposed in Stoke, who never looked likely to come away with anything, particularly after Bradley Johnson had put the Canaries in front just before half time.
One may have expected a Pulis half-time rousing to awake the Potters from their slumber but, in truth, the performance only worsened, and defeat leaves Stoke without an away win in 15 league matches – a run that takes them all the way back to January. The Potters have never been good travellers since their introduction to the Premier League in 2008, with their consistent survival based on the solid foundations of their impressive home form at the Britannia Stadium.
That is why it is the turgid performances there this season, perhaps not against the likes of Manchester City, but against Arsenal, Sunderland and even Swindon in the League Cup, that will be worrying Tony Pulis and the club’s supporters. Indeed, with the Potters now sitting only five points above the drop zone, next week’s home clash with relegation rivals Queens Park Rangers now arguably marks one of Stoke’s most important matches for many a year. Win and the possibility of a relegation battle, which even now seems unlikely, will be remote. Draw or lose and questions will almost certainly be asked, not of Tony Pulis’ position as manager, but of the players’ ability to lift themselves out of their current malaise.
What does the Welshman do to change matters? Well the statistics seem to speak for themselves. Stoke have only scored eight goals from their 10 league games played so far and thus clearly, it is in the attacking third where they must improve. Peter Crouch has proved himself as indispensable but perhaps it is time to consider dropping Jonathan Walters, who missed a couple of presentable opportunities at Carrow Road for one of Michael Owen, Kenwyne Jones or Cameron Jerome. Meanwhile in the wider positions, Matthew Etherington’s rehabilitation from injury is nearing completion, and he should take his place alongside fellow winger Michael Kightly.
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