Stoke Focus – Bold selections pay off in first win of year

Finally, at the seventh time of asking, Stoke City have recorded their first win in the Premier League since the 3-1 victory over Liverpool on Boxing Day.

The result may not have had much of a bearing on the Potters’ league position – they remain firmly in 10th position – and it certainly did not come easily or without trauma, with the goals from Robert Huth and Cameron Jerome only coming in the second half before Reading staged a fightback that had Stoke clinging on.

However, it is certainly a three points that will gratefully be accepted by Tony Pulis and his side who, despite all the public protestations to the contrary, were clearly becoming a little concerned at the downturn in form since that raucous success over Liverpool.

Inevitably, the Potters’ return to form came at the home comforts of the Britannia Stadium but arguably the seeds were sown last week at the Emirates where Stoke at least showed a move back to the fighting spirit and defensive solidity we have come to expect from them, facts that were continued against Reading.

Yes, the challenges from Ryan Shawcross on Laurent Koscielny last week and then Glen Whelan on Mikele Leigertwood this week were not pretty to say the least but they at least showcased a side that is just beginning to find it’s aggression again. Stoke can hardly ever be accused of being ‘soft’ but in their recent poor run, a rather timid underbelly was just beginning to emerge.

Pulis had been criticised for his perceived negative approach at Arsenal last week so it was a relief to many Stoke supporters to see both Michael Kightly and Matthew Etherington start on opposing flanks against Reading on Saturday afternoon. It is a move that many of the Stoke faithful have long been calling for. Charlie Adam has been a fine signing for Stoke but for a man of his limited speed, a role in the wide-right position is hardly one that is suited to him.

Frankly, it smacked of negativity and often left the Potters solely reliant on either the long ball to Peter Crouch or Kenwyne Jones, or on either Etherington or Kightly in the left-wing position. However, considering the downturn in the side’s form and Adam’s declining influence in recent matches, the time was right for a change to be made.

From the first minute, it looked to be a move that would pay off. Kightly was in menacing form and Reading simply did know where the Stoke attacks were coming from, be it Kightly’s right, Etherington’s left or down the middle with the threat of Crouch and Jonathan Walters.

Simply, the bolder selection gave Stoke’s attack an element of variety that Pulis would do well to remember when he prepares for his side for upcoming clashes against Fulham, West Ham, Newcastle and West Brom – four sides that will hardly frighten the life out of the Welshman and his team.

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