The Potters’ Wheels Are Falling Off: Why Stoke City are in serious danger of the drop

December 4, 2013 in Premier League by Emma Lucy Whitney

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A 4-0 drubbing at Everton does not necessarily a disaster make, but the worry is there for Stoke; only three points above the drop zone, there’s no question that the Potters could soon find themselves in one almighty dog-fight very soon indeed. Now that their ex-manager and antithesis of relegation Tony Pulis has joined Stoke’s Selhurst Park rivals (and now that Crystal Palace are starting to string a few wins together), Hughes’ men are in dire need of a bunch of good performances themselves, not to mention many more goals and above all results. With tonight’s crunch match against Cardiff City coming up at the Britannia – I’d go so far as to call this a six-pointer already – Stoke face a decisive December, with tough matches against Chelsea and Villa at home, interspersed between tricky fixtures at Hull, Newcastle and Spurs.

The Hughes Experiment will take time, but needs to reap rewards soon. Credit: guardian.co.uk

The Hughes Experiment will take time, but needs to reap rewards soon. Credit: guardian.co.uk

The thing is, this season hasn’t been that bad for the Potters – the Hughes Experiment is still in its infancy, after all, and they’ve achieved a few decent draws, including one against Man City at home, plus they really should have beaten Man United at Old Trafford. They even turned over relegation rivals Sunderland the other week, though the sending off of Wes Brown helped matters somewhat. Nevertheless, things aren’t firing on all cylinders at the Britannia, and Stoke’s main problem from my perspective is their lack of prowess in front of goal. Midfielder Charlie Adam is their top league scorer this season, with a grand total of three goals; nine other players, including strikers Crouch and Walters, and goalie Begović, have scored one goal apiece in the Premier League. Stoke have never really had a reputation for attacking extravagance in recent years, but this is a club with a long, illustrious history – indeed, the Potters turned 150 last season, and saw the likes of Sir Stanley Matthews and Gordon Banks turn out for them at the old Victoria Ground. The Stoke faithful deserve better, but unless Stoke’s strike-force starts firing again, things could be looking pretty bleak come the New Year.

Stoke's Jon Walters has found it hard to hit the target this season. Credit: guardian.co.uk

Stoke’s Jon Walters has found it hard to hit the target this season. Credit: guardian.co.uk

According to BBC Sport, Stoke had a total of seven shots against Everton, with only three of those on target. The Toffees, for comparison, had a whopping 34 shots in total, with a round dozen on target. Possession-wise, Stoke achieved 46% of the ball against Everton – not bad for an away team at Goodison Park – but perhaps it’s unfair to read too much into Saturday’s thrashing. After all, a lot of teams will visit the blue half of Liverpool this season and come away with their tails between their legs. In the crucial victory against Sunderland at the Britannia almost a fortnight ago, Stoke managed five shots on target, and a total of 17 shots altogether; indicative of home advantage maybe, but much more like the form needed if they want to give themselves the best chance of a) staying in the Premier League, and b) progressing towards the next level. To be fair, the Potters haven’t been helped by the loss of talisman defender Huth in recent matches; the German’s absence may only be until Christmas though, as recent exploratory knee surgery went better than expected. As Hughes has commented in the press, Stoke need to do more than rely on one man, however.

With their strikers misfiring, Stoke could do without the absence of German defender Huth this month. Credit: telegraph.co.uk

With their strikers misfiring, Stoke could do without the absence of German defender Huth this month. Credit: telegraph.co.uk

In my opinion, Stoke are in danger of the drop because they’re not scoring or creating enough, and they need to edge above their rivals in this department very soon. Squawkafootball.com tells us that Stoke have created 108 chances this season; to put this in perspective, Man City have created 176, and Premier League new-boys Cardiff have created only 89. Yet a perception exists around the Stoke team that they’re not doing enough, achieving enough, scoring enough; a malaise which surely feeds into the team itself. If the Potters can only manage 12 goals from 108 attempts, whereas Cardiff need only 89 chances to score 11, Stoke either need to create more, or tie their shooting boots more tightly. Hughes is not optimistic about the January transfer window, telling the Stoke Sentinel �[w]e are very early in what we are trying to do, and the January window is historically very difficult. We have to invest in first 11 players, and they may not be available.’ This is telling, indicating that Hughes fears his current starting XI just isn’t up to scratch. Stoke must hang on to goalie Begović – the Bosnian stopped the Everton match from becoming an embarrassment on Saturday – and, even more crucially, they need to find their Lukaku, their Benteke, their Deulofeu.

Potters fans will hope it's not too long before we see scenes like this at the Britannia again. Credit: telegraph.co.uk

Potters fans will hope it’s not too long before we see scenes like this at the Britannia again. Credit: telegraph.co.uk

A young, hungry striker or creative midfielder who can inject a bit of excitement and finesses into the current Stoke team is exactly what the Potters need. Rumours abound that Man City’s mystery man, John Guidetti, will go on loan to Paul Dickov’s Doncaster Rovers in the New Year, but Stoke could do worse than try to poach him for five months, give the lad a chance to prove himself, and hope that the gamble pays dividends in terms of goals. If I were Hughes, I’d be tempted to play Pennant against Cardiff tonight; especially with labouring striker Walters doubtful, it might be time to roll the dice and gamble on Pennant’s pace and width, in the hope that he’ll stretch Cardiff and bring the game to the Welsh team. I’m a fan of Hughes, and I hope he’s given enough time to work his magic at the Britannia, and get a better level of football being played there. We can only wait and see if Stoke will drag themselves out of the danger area come January 1st; the biggest city in the �creative county’ is desperately in need of some creativity on the pitch, and it may well be that Hughes has to spend big or sign wisely in order to make this happen.

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