In a thoroughly poor affair, Stoke City would eventually suffer yet another FA Cup defeat to Manchester City thanks to Pablo Zabaleta’s late goal.
Although Tony Pulis will perhaps not be too downhearted at exiting the world’s oldest cup competition given the downturn in his side’s league form of late, Stoke’s rather stagnant performance will surely have been of concern to the Welshman.
Early kick-offs are never the most riveting of affairs but the Potters’ anaemic performance was symptomatic of their fortunes of late, which has seen them take only one win from their last eight league games.
Indeed, the fear for Pulis and the fanatical Stoke supporters must be that after the glorious highs of Boxing Day’s powerful 3-1 victory over Liverpool, the players appear to have lost all the bite and power that marked that success.
Against City, there appeared to be no zest coming from the players and almost a lack of desire to reach the ball – an unthinkable thing to say about Stoke, certainly under Tony Pulis’ management.
The one positive however is that the Potters looked to have recovered some form of their previous defensive shape and solidity, having disintegrated in the shape of opposition attacks in recent weeks.
While going forward, Stoke may have offered next to nothing, Pulis’ ‘back to basics’ approach did at least entice improved performances from Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth at the back and it only took an untimely slip from Ryan Shotton to allow Zabaleta the space to hit the winner.
Thus, despite the obvious disappointment at going out of a competition, Pulis will be keen to stress the positives as he faces up to the prospect of Wigan’s visit for Tuesday’s Premier League encounter at the Britannia.
Indeed, the game arguably marks a crucial juncture in Stoke’s season: a win would see the Potters looking upwards again, with Swansea and West Brom not too far ahead of them in ninth and eighth place respectively.
On the other hand, while a draw or defeat will not exactly have the Potters staring down the barrels of a relegation battle, it will in all likelihood confirm the prospects of a mid to lower mid-table finish and, after the FA Cup exit, potentially leave the team with very little to play for until the season’s end.
This week Pulis will also contend with the end of the transfer window. Having previously stated his desire to strengthen his squad in January, there is yet to be a new arrival through the doors at the Britannia this month.
One would surely suspect that the Welshman has a signing or two up his sleeve in the coming days, particularly if Kenwyne Jones does eventually complete his move to Swansea City. provided Danny Graham moves on from the Liberty Stadium.
See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Stoke