The mighty Potters had their first game back on home soil after disappointingly being booted out of the Europa League by Valencia. I unfortunately didn`t go, but with my birthday only 2 weeks away, I`m now kicking, beating and punching myself for not thinking of asking for Valencia away tickets instead of socks and iTunes vouchers. Never mind, but I have to say before I continue with the report, what an absolutely amazing performance by the Stoke fans. The sense of unity and passionate pride is something us Stokies know a thing or two about, and travelling to Spain in such high spirits within the undeniable masses is a real feature of what we are all about. Well bloody done to everyone single one of you, and lets keep that reputation of the famous atmosphere going!
Now onto today`s game; The Britannia Stadium was today`s venue for the Potter`s crucial match against newly-promoted Swansea City and one that evidently Tony Pulis held as a top priority. Tony rested a number of regular players, including the likes of captain Ryan Shawcross, Peter Crouch and Jonathan Walters, so with a total of 11 changes to the side that played against Valencia, the fans were hoping that the plan would come together in the quest for 3 points.
Swan`s manager Brendon Rodgers has installed liquid football into the Welsh team`s game, heavily relying on possession play and quick tempo, and that was once again observed by all at the Brit today as they look to outplay the Potters.
Their usual tippy-tappy carpet football almost gave them the lead within two minutes of the kick-off as Angel Rangel slickly slid the ball across to Nathan Dyer on the right, and with an injection of pace, he burst to the by-line. He cut back to put through an ambitious Scott Sinclair who took a shot from 10 yards, only to put the ball into row Z. A wasted opportunity, but worrying times for Stoke as they knew they were in for a handful today.
What you gain in pace you lack in height it seems, and so with an average height of 5`8″, it would be a tall order for Swansea to compete in the air with a Stoke City side averaging 6`1″. A little stat there that brings me nicely to the first of Ryan Shotton`s long-throws; the ball was launched in, and then cleared, but only as Glen Whelan on the edge of the area who instinctively had a shot on the volley. Peter Crouch was there to put the finishing touches on the shot as he flicked it on, but Ashley Williams was positioned perfectly to block on the line. Unlucky for Stoke, but roared on by the home crowd, it wasn`t going to be the only opportunity of the game.
The ball spent most of the time within the midfield during the early stages of the first-half, and at the feet of Swansea, but Stoke had a couple of encouraging signs and showed that they wanted a lead.
Sure enough, another chance fell to Stoke, but on this occasion it was converted with an unstoppable GOAL! Mathew Etherington made his way to the corner flag on the right and put in a precise, pacey ball into the mix. Unmarked Mathew Upson came charging in and got up well to connect with his head and powered in a bullet-like shot that flew past Gerhard Tremmel. A great goal for a player with something to prove as far as the pecking order is concerned.
Shawcross went into referee Howard Webb`s book after bringing down Danny Graham which also resulted with a free-kick to the Swans from 25 yards out. Gylfi Sigurdsson aimed for the top corner of the goal, but his curling effort flew just over.
Neil Taylor ventured away from the left-back position to instigate a counter-attack after winning the ball from inside his own half. His ambitious run left the Stoke defence flapping as he bypassed to penetrate the area, but it was Upson who came flying in to rescue the situation with an inch-perfect slide tackle that saw the danger clear.
More tippy-tappy carpet football followed, but it seemed that Swansea not only couldn`t make the most of their possession and chances, but also couldn`t avoid conceding further as the Potters extended their lead with the GOAL coming from a long-throw. Shotton did his bit, and it was another dangerous throw that emulated the flat trajectory of the original human sling-shot Rory Delap (must have been training with him). Crouch found himself in a good position and headed the ball goalward, Tremmel dived and got a touch, but the ball rolled in as the sting was too great for him to handle.
Half time and Stoke had showed that possession isn`t everything, and that Swansea were having a torrid time dealing with the aerial threat. A towering performance so far from the mighty red and white as they held off Swansea, who were falling a little short in front of goal. I`m sure these height jokes will be short lived. Stoke City 2 – 0 Swansea City
Coming into the second half, Stoke could not afford any complacency and so were fired up to keep a clean sheet. Shotton`s throw caused more havoc in the box as Crouch flicked on to Jonathan Walters at the far post, but his header saw the ball power into the ground and bounce over the bar.
Lots of tippy-tappy football from the Swans.
Danny Graham‘s 25-yard strike was deflected wide for a corner, and with that, Tony made a change. Cameron Jerome replaced Matthew Etherington, with Walters falling back to cover the vacant wing position. It seemed that the Stoke boss wanted to see the game out with a comfortable win.
Meanwhile Brendan Rodgers took off Nathan Dyer and Scott Sinclair for Luke Moore and Josh McEachran.
Not too much action in front of goal during this second half, but the Potters came mightily close to making it a three goal lead. Shotton evidently has been working on his crossing ability as he whipped in a dangerous curling ball, but Walters` header once again didn`t quite come off as it went wide.
Luke Moore turned on a sixpence and unleashed a low strike toward goal, but Asmir Begovic was there with safe hands. In all honesty, I can`t quite remember Asmir having to make much of an effort to save an shots up until this point, which is credit to the solidarity of the red and white defence.
Sigurdsson claimed for a penalty when he felt his shirt was tugged by Dean Whitehead. He made a superb effort to get through a crowded area but quite get clear for an effort on goal. Webb waved away his protests.
Swansea finally tested the ability of Begovic to the limit as Steven Caulker`s bullet header from a free-kick forced an instinctive reaction from the young Bosnian ‘keeper as he threw his hands into the air and finger-tipped the ball which ricocheted off the cross-bar. A quality save and the fans let him know how much they appreciated it.
The final whistle went and Stoke come away with the three points. Pulis` plan worked, but at the expense of a place in Europe. I`m sure that no Stoke fan will be that bothered about that though, so long as we can beat the likes of Swansea and equivalent teams in the league, especially when they out-play us passing wise on the field.
Swansea fan`s sung “is this the library” or something along those lines; what`s going on??? I felt embarrassed and I`m sure many Stokies felt the same, so why are we falling in the decibel ratings and allowing the opposition fans to be heard? More on this to follow…
Begovic, Wilkinson, Shawcross, Upson, Wilson, Shotton (Palacios, 88) Whelan, Whitehead, Etherington (Jerome, 68), Walters, Crouch (Delap, 88).
Subs: Sorensen, Jones, Fuller, Pennant.
Tremmel, Rangel, Williams, Caulker, Taylor, Britton, Sigurdsson, Allen, Dyer (Moore, 71) Graham, Sinclair (McEachran, 71)
Subs: Tate, Routledge, Monk, Lita, Gower.