|Stoke City 2 v 0 Ipswich Town|
Saturday, 8th December 2018 Kick-off 15:00
Anything But Three Points Against Ipswich Will Be a Colossal Failure - Notes for Stoke City
Friday, 7th Dec 2018 11:30 by HarryFromBath
HarryFromBath assesses the mood in the opposition camp ahead of Saturday’s game at the bet365 Stadium by delving into their forums.
“This has been the most excruciating season. Progress is glacial but we are getting there. It will be next season when we go up”, “I keep hoping we will put a run together and start to look as though we have a plan”, “We won’t go up and we won’t go down. Just start planning now for next season.”
“We are distinctly average.” The Potters head into Saturday’s game on a six-game unbeaten run and having lost one of their last 11 fixtures, but fans fear that they may not improve on their current 12th place in the table watching their prosaic style of football with an inability to dominate opponents.
“We are a hard team to beat but it doesn’t stop average opponents capitalising on our weaknesses”, “We have to go from being hard to beat to winning pretty soon, or we won’t get anywhere near the play-offs”, “It seems like that in every game you have to brave yourself for some kind of setback.”
“What we need now is momentum.” Their last three games summed up City’s season. A battling win over Derby when down to 10 men was bracketed by 2-2 draws against weaker teams in QPR and last Saturday and at Reading, with points being thrown away in both games after conceding late equalisers.
“The time for one-step-forwards, two-steps-back has to end”, “The Reading game summed up the difference between us and the other sides. Once on top, other teams kick on to push home their advantage. They get a sackful of goals which feeds momentum. Rowett has just bottled it again.”
“I still can’t make up my mind on whether our problem is managerial or not. Rowett is a defensive manager who makes very cautious decisions”, “Mr Overly Cautious strikes again. He isn’t a manager to go for it, he gets a lead and then tries to hang on. You can see why Derby fell away last season.”
Gary Rowett - Birmingham City
“How many points will Rowett cost us with his negativity?” The 44-year-old former Derby manager replaced Paul Lambert in May after Stoke’s relegation from the Premier League. Many fans can see a link between his preferred counter-attacking football and an inability to put weak opponents away.
“Gary, just get ruthless”, “He’s playing the same way Tony Pulis did here in the Premier League. He would reduce the game to a scrap decided by a lucky bounce. That’s fine if you are squeezing results in the top flight. When you’re doing it to finish mid-table in the Championship, it’s time to give up.”
“We won’t make the top 10 under Rowett”, “We need a braver manager to get the best out of our squad”, “His stupidly negative substitutions allow weak teams to put us under pressure. We stop attacking and fail to win”, “It’s useless having a Ferrari if you put a hapless driver behind the wheel.”
A Major Squad Rebuild
“What a lot of people seem to ignore is what Rowett walked into. It was a mess which would take more than one transfer window to sort out. He was stuck with a brittle defence, a ridiculously past-it midfield, two strikers who couldn’t score and another who should really have retired this summer.”
Potters are prepared to give him time to rebuild a squad which has quality but which lacks balance. “I can’t think of anyone that would do much better. Because of this I cut Gary Rowett a lot of slack. People see the money we spent and think we should do better, but it’s just not that easy or simple.”
“We’re not playing good attractive football. We are keeping it on the deck and passing it from side to side, before lumping it long when there’s nowhere to go”, “We are too passive and cautious. We do not press high or aggressively. Our transition from back to front should be at a much higher tempo.”
“We are so boring.” Fans have consistently criticised the team’s “lack of creativity and pace” as well as their inability to take the initiative against opponents who sit back. “We are too slow and lacking in movement”, “We don’t shift the ball quickly enough and really need to play at a higher tempo.”
“Why, when we’re winning a game, do we lose all ability and invite opponents on every time for shooting practice?”, “I simply can’t understand why there is so much negativity in our players”, “We paid the price at Reading for going defensive once again and failing to put the game out of reach.”
The starting XI (above) at the Madejski on Saturday lined up with Rowett’s preferred back four and three-man midfield. Goalkeeper Jack Butland has improved in form and confidence as the season has progressed, although some Potters have reservations over his kicking and positioning at times.
“The best form of defence is attack, especially with the confidence levels our defence has.” Rowett’s three veteran centre-backs Ashley Williams, Bruno Martins Indi and especially Ryan Shawcross worry fans with their “statuesque” lack of pace and a habit of being caught flat-footed in one-on-one races.
Erik Pieters is seen as a defensively solid left-back, while Rowett has two right-back options. Everton loanee Cuco Martina is a broadly safer option whereas teenager Tom Edwards is a more exciting and forward-thinking prospect who has broken into the first team but who still lacks some consistency.
“I don’t want a boring, safe and solid central midfield, I want an attacking forward-playing one”, “We have some decent midfielders but look too lightweight. We could really do with a Marouane Fellaini-style bully in there”, “Sam Clucas, Joe Allen and Ryan Woods have very little presence on the pitch.”
“An uncreative no-threat midfield.” Midfielder Peter Etebo is suspended on Saturday, but fans have more widely criticised the lack of variety in midfield. Playmaker Bojan Krkic has the ability to unlock defences with his creative passing and vision, but his lack of consistency and effort divides opinion.
“The fact that we only have makeshift strikers or midfielders to replace James McClean or Tom Ince shows the ongoing imbalance in our squad.” Ince is seen as the team’s most creative outlet cutting inside. His play contrasts with orthodox winger McClean who flatters to deceive despite his industry.
Many feel that both leading strikers are better suited to two-man pairings. “Saido Berahino’s hold-up play is excellent this season. His form has improved but his issue appears to be his finishing. Benik Afobe in contrast seems to offer nothing but an ability to finish, he’s more of a typical goal poacher.”
Reading 2 - 2 Stoke
“What a waste”, “Reading were creating no opportunities until we backed off like gutless cowards”, “Rowett handed the initiative to Reading with his substitutes, taking any attacking intent from us. It’s not bad luck, it’s poor management”, “We should have won that comfortably”, “Typical Stoke.”
Marc McNulty made Stoke pay for missing a series of early chances when he headed Reading into the lead on 42 minutes, but Afobe levelled on 48 before Tom Ince's volley on 69 minutes put the Potters in front. Modou Barrow’s stoppage-time goal rescued a very late point for the hosts.
“And that, my fellow Stokies, is Rowett’s speciality in a nutshell”, “We should have gone for their throat after taking the lead and not sat back”, “We didn’t play that well. Our football was too slow, too short and not long or direct enough. We gave Reading too much time and room to attack us.”
“That’s what happens when you go to a back five.” Potters heavily criticised Rowett for switching to a back five (above), replacing winger McClean and midfielder Clucas with the defensively-minded Darren Fletcher and centre-half Ashley Williams in the last 10 minutes. “I give up after that.”
Stoke 2 – 1 Derby
“Get in boys, that was a cracking win”, “That’s what I like to see, fighting spirit, constantly looking to attack whenever possible and a great win. We kept up the tempo throughout the game”, “That was a hard-fought, brilliant win that could turn the season around. It must have given everyone a boost.”
Sam Clucas put Stoke ahead on 24 minutes before Peter Etebo was dismissed on 33 for a dangerous tackle on the Rams’ Richard Keogh. Derby level on 50 when Harry Wilson's freekick found the top corner before Ince slotted home the winner from Clucas's square ball 14 minutes later.
“The most exciting game I have seen so far this season.” In the melee following Etebo's dismissal, Derby’s Bradley Johnson grabbed Joe Allen's shirt with him after appearing to attempt to bite his shoulder, for which the former Canary was given a retrospective four-game ban for violent conduct.
“Well done for playing so effectively on the break”, “We had 27 per cent possession and I loved it.” Fans felt that the pattern of the game suited them, with Derby taking the game to the Potters. The inclusion of Clucas in a left midfield role (above) also gave the team a better attacking balance.
Stoke 2 – 2 QPR
“Welcome to Championship mediocrity, that was a poor and unattractive game to watch”, “Terrible defending, has Angel Rangel ever scored two goals in his career before today?”, “I’m so fed up with the disappointment. I honestly thought we were going to win”, “We were distinctly average today.”
Angel Rangel headed Rangers ahead on seven minutes before Saido Berahino bundled home Stoke’s leveller 14 minutes later. Joe Allen put the hosts on 61 minutes but, straight after Ince had a goal disallowed for offside, Eberechi Eze set up right-back Rangel for his second goal to level on 78.
“We weren’t comfortable, although we did look dangerous on the break. We couldn’t keep the ball in midfield”, “We didn’t need three sitting midfielders. There was not enough movement and our forward play was laboured”, “We shouldn’t have tried to defend the lead, we had to really go for it.”
“It was basically a 4-5-1.” Rowett rejigged his defence for this game (above) switching Edwards across to right-back and moving centre-half Martins Indi to right-back, but Potters were more annoyed with winger McClean for failing to track back and prevent Rangel from scoring.
“In the mind of our managerial genius, the substitutions made sense.” Potters were left baffled by Rowett’s changes (above) after he removed both wingers and brought on a playmaker in Krkic and a target man Peter Crouch. “There has to be a better alternative than watching this rubbish.”
Goalkeepers and Defenders
“Jack Butland to the rescue, again.” The 25-year-old ex-Birmingham keeper “has been magnificent in the last few games and this will hopefully improve his confidence”, “He has made some important saves lately and is looking more dominant”, “He has safe hands and has made very few mistakes.”
“A fit and confident Butland is huge for a club in this division”, “His distribution has been a problem and he needs to improve with the ball at his feet”, “He doesn’t always command his box or come out of the six-yard box for crosses, but he is a brilliant, sharp keeper and is our most important player.”
“Erik Pieters is the only one of the back four I have not worried about this season.” The 30-year-old former PSV Eindhoven man “is fine playing as a conventional left-back but he struggles at wing-back because his crossing is generally very poor”, “Let Erik just concentrate on defending and nowt else.”
“Pieters enjoys getting stuck into wingers and pounding up and down the pitch”, “He’s so organised, he keeps his discipline and will offer support going forward at times”, “If he holds his position, there are not many in this league who will get past him”, “Whatever our problems, Erik isn’t one of them.”
“Cuco Martina is a less attack-minded but steadier right-back.” The 29-year-old Everton loanee “was dire before being dropped. He is on the downslope of his career”, “He gets into decent positions but is very wasteful. He looks uncomfortable defensively and can let his winger past him on the outside.”
“Martina is a funny one. A lot of people don’t rate him but he has been steady but unspectacular. He offers very little going forward but he is fine as an old-school bog-standard right-back. He is less risky than Edwards”, “His crossing is abysmal at this level and they routinely thud into the first defender.”
“Tom Edwards has been a spark of light in a very frustrating season.” The 19-year-old youth product “is inconsistent but that’s what you get from young players breaking through. When he’s on song he offers a threat going forward. On the front foot he’s one of the best crossers of a ball in the club.”
“Edwards’s crossing will produce goals this season but the quality of them is being exaggerated”, “He is solid but gives the ball away and often passes right to the opponent”, “He continues to impress, he combines well with McClean and recovers with good pace on the occasions when he does mess up.”
“Bruno Martins Indi is a solid defensive centre-back. He wins his fair share of aerial duels, but he lacks a yard of pace and the ability to bring the ball out.” The 26-year-old Netherland international and former Porto man has covered at left-back. “The least worst of a dire set of central defenders.”
“Bruno is not a classic left-back but he defends well, although he is limited going forward”, “Several times he had chances to stretch the play, but he doesn’t seem to know where a full-back is supposed to run”, “He has a sound defensive performance but isn’t going to contribute much going forward.”
“I thought Ashley Williams was a spent force when he first arrived but he has improved with every game and seems to have a bit more pace as well.” The 34-year-old one-time Swansea centre-half is on a season-long loan from Everton. “His ability to read play and anticipate short passes is great.”
“Williams wins lots of important tackles with lots of foot-ins and interceptions, and he clears his lines well”, “He looked initially like a terrible signing but he has put in some great displays, cutting out so many balls”, “He is still vulnerable to long balls over the top, where he has to get into a footrace.”
“I love Shawcross but he should only be selected on form.” The 31-year-old centre-half has been at Stoke since 2008. “He has been a great servant but he is so immobile. His recent performances upset me as he looks a pale shadow of his former self”. “He is clumsy and off the pace, mistiming tackles.”
Ryan Shawcross (Stoke City)
“Why is Ryan incapable of playing the ball down the line without slicing it into touch?”, “He was poor against Boro last month, losing every 50/50 header with Jordan Hugill. He lost every footrace against him and was a liability on the deck”, “All he can do is head the ball and get the occasional block in.”
“What possible circumstances could call for a Darren Fletcher ‘masterclass’?” The 34-year-old ex-Manchester United and West Brom man “always wants to be in the right place at the right time but his legs won’t get him there”, “He can be effective in games where he can make time and space.”
“Ryan Woods does his job well keeping the ball moving, but he’s just not quick or strong enough to protect the defence.” The 24-year-old is on loan from Brentford with the move becoming permanent in January. “He’s getting worse by the week, offering no protection and little going forward either.”
“The Rowett-coached Woods has become poorer than the Brentford-coached Woods”, “He works hard and breaks up play very well, but his passing goes sideways or backwards. He often has players making forward runs but plays it safe”, “He gets tackled mob-handed when holding on to the ball.”
“Bojan Krkic can add a bit of creativity and quality.” The 28-year-old ex-Barcelona and Roma man has split opinion among fans. “As predicted, he did nothing when he came on against QPR”, “I love him but let’s face it, he’s so lightweight and ineffective in this division”, “The fans’ little comfort blanket.”
“Sam Clucas has impressed me more than any new signing in a long time.” The 28-year-old August arrival from Swansea made his Stoke debut against QPR after recovering from knee surgery over the summer. “He just needs a run games to get that extra sharpness, but he will definitely come good.”
“Clucas gets into space and uses the ball well, making us a real attacking threat”, “He is strong and skilful, and gives our midfield more power and athleticism”, “He was more effective playing as a left midfielder than McClean has been all season”, “Let’s hope he’s the catalyst that ignites our season.”
“If only all our players worked as hard as Joe does.” The 28-year-old ex-Liverpool man “has bags of energy, he’s full of running and good challenges too”, “He scores and sets goals up. He doesn’t make major mistakes and covers more territory than anyone else”, “He has steadily improved this season.”
“Allen gets a lot of unfair stick. He rarely has a blinder but just as rarely has a bad game. He’s a good all-rounder who needs someone alongside him with more physicality, flair and trickery. He runs into the box and scores or creates. Just as equally he harries and closes down and helps the defence out.”
Wide Midfielders and Wingers
“James McClean, honestly, runs a lot and that’s it.” The 29-year-old former Wigan and West Brom left winger “has no idea how to make himself available for a pass. He chases back, he tries to make things happen and adds some aggression, but he can’t pass, can’t beat his man and can’t defend.”
“McClean is a threat going forward, but we overpaid for an honest trier when more pace, goals and flair would have been better”, “He ruffles a few feathers but defensively he’s a write-off”, “How do you allow a 36-year-old Angel Rangel score twice when you’re supposed to be an all-action player?”
“Ince has been integral to so many of our goals.” The 26-year-old July addition from Huddersfield “is quiet for long spells but his quality on the ball is often vital”, “He’s our main outlet drifting inside off the right wing”, “He is an idle show pony who can’t cross or beat a player but he does have ability.”
Sam Clucas and Tom Ince (Stoke City)
“Ince would do a great job in the number 10 role. He’s certainly a creative player who has done it in the league time and time again”, “If he doesn’t produce a moment of creativity, we’re absolutely screwed”, “He carries attacks single-handed. He gets some stick but our goals often start with him.”
“Sadly, I don’t think that Peter Crouch is the answer now.” The 37-year-old joined from Spurs in 2011 and is used as an impact substitute these days. “He should never be used for anything other than a last roll of the dice when we’re desperate for a goal. He’s constantly offside due to his lack of pace.”
“Mame Biram Diouf has promised everything but delivered nothing.” The Senegal international and former Hannover 96 man “might be better than Crouch up front as he’s faster, better in the air and stronger. The only problem is that he can’t finish”, “He exposes his full-back when playing out wide.”
“Diouf is as technically-gifted a footballer as a pack of crisps”, “If he’s not running around, harrying and accidentally tripping people up, he’s not contributing at all”, “I can’t remember a professional footballer ever having such poor technique”, “His technique is like a hippo playing with a balloon.”
“Saido Berahino is turning into an intelligent footballer who holds the ball up brilliantly. He can beat a man and find a pass.” The 25-year-old ex-West Brom man “put in a serious performance against Derby”, “He hasn’t rediscovered his scoring touch but his all-round football has been really good.”
“Berahino gets into good positions but he lacks a killer instinct”, “He battles well against stronger opponents. He never stops running and his movement is great”, “We play better when he plays. He has done well on his own up top, as a 5ft 9in forward dealing with 40-yard punts from Shawcross.”
“Afobe started brightly here and undoubtedly possesses a lot of quality, but he isn’t a lone striker.” The 25-year-old joined from Wolves in June, initially on loan with Stoke having an obligation to buy him in January. “He looks like a flat-out poacher of the kind that’s becoming redundant nowadays.”
Benik Afobe (Wolves)
“For a big bloke, Afobe doesn’t use his size to good effect. He’s less mobile than Berahino and does not make himself as available for passes. He lacks the presence and anticipation of good strikers and too often he disappears”, “He’s a poor excuse for a striker and he looks like he can’t be bothered.”
“Afobe isn’t the best in the air”, “If the ball isn’t on his head when crossed, he won’t move”, “Crosses are no good to him, he needs threaded balls in behind for him to run on to”, “We need an aggressive fast player who will run all day and feed off scraps but Afobe has been anonymous and out of sorts.”
Potters’ Views on ITFC and the Game
“We have to score a lot of goals. If we can't do it in this game and the result is anything less than a home win, then it will be another sacking”, “Losing to Ipswich should be a sackable offence for any manager in this league. They are bloody awful”, “Surely even we can't screw this this up.”
“Still not hammered anyone yet, have we? I think next week against an abysmal Ipswich could be the one.” A number of Potters watched our recent televised defeat to West Brom and were baffled by how poor we were at time. “Ipswich are embarrassingly poor, they would struggle in League Two.”
“Albion look really strong but Ipswich look dreadful. I don’t think it is much to do with Paul Lambert though. They have just got a very poor squad”, “Yes, it was men against boys”, “Ipswich are bottom for a reason. After the disappointment of Saturday’s draw at Reading, this needs to be a solid win.”
“If we fail to win on Saturday due to the manager being ridiculously over-cautious, then I can see the tide turning against him big time”, “We should just go at them from the off for the full 90 minutes”, “I can't see this being a good game to watch, but it’s a must-win game if we want to get promotion.”
“Ipswich did lead twice against Bristol City, a team we struggled to beat with only three shots on target and no clear-cut chances, so we shouldn't assume this match is a gimme”, “Anything but three points against this bottom-of-the-league Ipswich team will be viewed as a colossal failure.”
“I can't work out what's gone wrong at Ipswich. They have signed some good players from the lower leagues, all the right profile and good ages. The right winger from Peterborough, Gwion Edwards, is a really good player. He reminds me a lot of Liam Lawrence. Maybe they signed too many at once?”
“It’s a shame really. I always admired Ipswich, a small-town club punching well above their weight, with high league finishes and a good European record. They are probably the only club in the world that get worked up by Norwich City, while everyone else in the universe utters a uninterested ‘meh’ and shrugs their shoulders at the Canaries.”
Potters’ Thoughts on Paul Lambert
“Paul Lambert must be masochist because he's got a bigger job on at Ipswich than he had at Stoke to keep them up. They are in a terrible state”, “The new manager bounce hasn't happened with Lambert yet. It would be dire for us if it starts on Saturday”, “He will have them very tough to break down.”
Paul Lambert (Stoke City)
“There's nothing wrong with polite applause for a guy who genuinely did his very best for our club.” Saturday’s game has given Potters a chance to reflect of Lambert’s time at the club last season, and while there were a few ‘he wasn’t big enough for our club’ remarks, the majority were much kinder.
“I hope Lambert gets a decent reception”, “Lambert was a thoroughly decent bloke who gave it his all. He had no option but to play defensively as we were shipping goals all over the place before he arrived. He got the players fitter and weeded out the troublemakers in a short space of time.”
“The bloke deserves a decent reception. He was passionate and gave everything he could for the club. You can't knock him, he just ended up with an appalling record and he had zero luck”, “He would have got more points on the board for us than Rowett with the £50 million he has spent.”
“Lambert always spoke very highly of the club and he tried to rectify two years of negligence and tried to get a bunch of lazy, demotivated wasters to do a bit of graft. For what it's worth I see little difference between him and Rowett”, “Every game I watched under him we played with passion.”
“Lambert would have had the team firing on all cylinders from day one of the new season had he been able to keep his job. Lambert didn't relegate Stoke and I would never pin that on him. The man is light years ahead of Rowett in my eyes”, “I for one wish he was still our manager now.”
The busiest Potters’ message board is the authoritative and friendly The Oatcake. Stoke City highlights are available on the Multimedia menu as well as Ipswich Town and for the whole of the Championship and other EFL leagues.
Photo: Action Images
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