After some had questioned Stoke City’s wisdom in making Peter Crouch the club’s record signing at 30 years of age last season, the England international quickly established himself as a Britannia favourite with 14 goals in all competitions.
Unquestionably, the highlight was the jaw-dropping volley at home to Manchester City that, bar a couple of Papiss Cisse thunderbolts, was a shoe-in for goal of the season.
It was not just his goals either. Crouch may never have truly succeeded in the air considering his mammoth frame but under Tony Pulis at Stoke City, there appeared to be an understanding of what he could produce. He may never provide bullet headers that crash into the net in the manner of Andy Carroll for example, but what he has mastered to perfection is the art of the knock down, particularly on the diagonal ball when pulling onto the far post.
It’s a tactic that Stoke and Pulis were keen to employ and reap rewards from. Crouch’s strike partner Jonathan Walters was a particular beneficiary of the tactic. Essentially, not only did Crouch score goals but he made goals too, and it was thought that his mere presence in an already imposing Stoke starting XI could be enough to steer games in their favour. The Stoke supporters certainly took to him, voting him their player of the season for the 2011-12 campaign.
This season started off in similar fashion, with the Potters’ number 25 scoring five goals in all competitions by the end of September even sparking talk of a recall to Roy Hodgson’s England squad.
However, since his two goals at home to Swansea on the 29th of September, Crouch has endured one of the most barren runs of his career. Indeed, so poor has he been with only one goal scored in all competitions, that the 32-year-old even lost his place in the side to Kenwyne Jones towards the end of the last calendar year.
A goal against Wigan at the end of January appeared to herald a return to the form of last season for the striker but his performances have arguably only dipped further. Perhaps more importantly, Crouch appears to be lacking the presence of old on matches. Certainly, the Potters remain keen to utilise the long diagonal ball but Crouch’s ability to make use of it just appears to have diminished, with Jones and Cameron Jerome looking more threatening options.
So is this a sign that Crouch’s powers are just beginning to wane at the age of 32? Perhaps, but the striker’s game has never been based on pace on athleticism. It could be that having played for so many clubs in his career, that he has just begun to lose that bit of hunger and desire playing for a Stoke outfit that essentially has very little to play for.
Whatever it is, the key to Tony Pulis’ future as manager at the Britannia could depend on his record signing finding his shooting boots again before the season is out.
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