Stoke Focus – Potters fall to defeat again as rivals begin to close in

It was disappointment again for Stoke City and Tony Pulis as a late Papiss Cisse goal condemned the Potters to their third consecutive Premier League defeat. Having looked capable of securing only their second away win in the league of the season after Jonathan Walters scored a 67-minute penalty, Pulis’ men fell apart in the final 20 minutes to give Newcastle a deserved victory.

The Welshman had a point with his post-match complaints that Cisse was lucky to even be on the pitch after raising his hands towards Ryan Shawcross in the second half, while the Potters were also unlucky not to be awarded a further two penalties to add to the one converted by Walters. However in reality, the visitors were rather toothless throughout just as they have been all season on the road.

It was not long ago that after holding Tottenham to a 0-0 draw at White Hart Lane, Andre Villas-Boas hailed Stoke’s defence as the best in Europe, never mind the Premier League. However, that stalemate on the 22nd of December has proved to be the last time the Potters have managed to keep a clean sheet in the Premier League and that regression was clear for everyone to see at St James’ Park.

While there was little Pulis’ men could do about Yohan Cabaye’s expertly taken free-kick to equalise for the hosts, the defending for Newcastle’s winner was poor, completely atypical to what we have come to expect from Stoke but tellingly, completely typical from what we have seen from the team in recent weeks.

First, Sylvain Marveux was given complete freedom on the edge of the box to pick his pass through for Cisse. Against a midfield that included Ryan Shotton, Glen Whelan, Steven Nzonzi and Dean Whitehead, the lack of pressure put on the Frenchman was unforgivable. Then, what Marc Wilson was doing charging out of central-defence, leaving Cisse unmarked to stroke home, only he will know. Similarly sloppy defending also cost the Potters goals against West Ham, Fulham and Wigan and for a manager who prides himself on his defensive coaching ability, that will hurt Tony Pulis more than anyone.

Going forward it was hardly much better. One thing you always expect with Stoke is to be put under pressure on crosses and set pieces. The likes of Peter Crouch, Walters and N’Zonzi have all shown in the past that a bad cross can be made into a good one by their sheer presence. However, in recent weeks and particularly against Newcastle, the few crosses that were anywhere near them failed to be challenged with any real conviction whatsoever, another recurring and worrying theme.

The Potters still remain relatively well-placed in 11th position but that lofty perch is only secured by a better goal difference than the three teams below them, all of which are also on 33 points. Indeed, with Aston Villa’s victory on the weekend, Stoke are now only just beginning to look over their shoulder at the relegation places once again, a really quite unthinkable thought considering how the team was playing back in December.

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