In the end, Stoke’s first defeat at the Britannia Stadium in a year became a rather comprehensive one.
Having stayed with Chelsea for over an hour and been unlucky not to get an equaliser when Matthew Etherington was (correctly) adjudged to be offside just before being brought down for what would have been a penalty, the European champions’ extra class took over in the final third of the fixture and the Blues eventually ran out 4-0 winners.
It’s hard not to feel for Jonathan Walters. The man has become a symbol of exactly what Stoke and Tony Pulis have been all about in the Premier League. The most talented footballer he will never be, but he works vigorously hard in every minute of every game, no matter what position he is played in.
The Irishman has proved himself to be a mainstay in the Potters’ line-up, starting every single Premier League match this season and proving to be an extremely useful foil for either Peter Crouch or Kenwyne Jones.
He is a player that has had to scrap for every single chance he has ever got and thus yesterday’s game should have been one of celebration for him as the man was making his 100th Premier League appearance – a record he could not have dreamed of reaching when he was plying his trade for Chester in League 2 back in 2007.
Instead, the 29-year-old had what was comfortably the worst day of his career as he scored two own goals to put his side 2-0 behind, before going on to miss a penalty and complete the misery for both himself and his beaten side.
Pulis backed his man after the game and rightly so. As embarrassing as the own goals were, they were not comical. Rather, they were the consequence of Walters’ desire to give everything to the cause defensively, despite his nominal forward position. That the ball ended up in the net twice is simply an anomaly. As for his penalty miss, both player and manager can point to his exemplary record from the spot for the club.
Where Pulis will be concerned however is that after going the whole season only conceding more than two goals in a game twice in the league, Stoke have shipped three, three and now four in their last three matches, of which only a solitary point at home to Southampton have been achieved.
While the Potters’ excellent previous form ensures there is no chance of them descending into the relegation battle, perhaps the manager should view the recent slump as a sign of his team’s weariness, particularly at the back where certain players, such as Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross, have played nearly every minute of every game.
Indeed, with the transfer window now in full swing, it could well be time for Pulis to dip his toes into the water once again.
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