Arriving at the ground for my ‘home game, the team news had a few surprises. No King or Defoe at all, presumably injured, Cook on the bench with the Francis and Ake partnership preferred and Wilson on the bench. So a new look attack with Afobe upfront and Mousett behind was charged with adding to our goal tally with Stanislas and Ibe wide and our normal fullbacks of Smith and Daniels.
Stoke is normally a cold, windy ground and today was no exception. Storm Brian threatened to ruin the game as a spectacle with the wind holding the ball up and causing issues for defenders judgement.
So the game started with Cherries on the front foot attacking the Bootham end which is sponsored by Staffordshire University. It’s good to know that the uni are spending their students fees wisely!
Stoke were allowing us to dominate possession and it felt like a home game really. The ‘mighty potters’ failed to close us down and we were given so much time on the ball which the excellent Cook was taking full advantage of.
At this point I must say that as per my match report title, it was a game of 2 halves and most of the action in the entire match was down the opposite end of the excellent travelling support. So apologies if I am not 100% accurate on the details. In one move down the right in which Stan was involved, it looked as if we had waited too long to shoot when the ball was passed out to the edge of the box where it was smashed into the net by Surman. Yes Surman, that player that most a month ago, including myself were lamenting as the reason for all our problems. He is now our top scorer! Having L Cook next to him seems to free him from the responsibility of making play and has given him more freedom.
Soon after, we were in dreamland. Good passing saw Afobe break into the box where he was felled and a penalty awarded. With no King or Defoe, Stan stepped up, waited for Butland to dive before chipping it right down the middle.
The home crowd became increasingly frustrated with their sides efforts. In fact they were bleedin miserable all match, encouraged by a moaning Hughes. There seems some bad feelings towards us from previous meetings. Some might say that we milk our injuries and take advantage of every technique to slow the game down. I would say Blo#dy well done and it’s about time we wised up to what every other other team does. I will never have sympathy for Stoke fans after the way they booed Callum when he suffered his first acl injury.
The home side did come back into the match towards half time and Begovic was forced into making an excellent 1 hand stop from a hard, close range shot. There were also a couple of close range headers that drifted wide of the post.
You feared a backlash from Stoke in the 2nd half and I thought that Crouch might be a half time sub as he was not warming up with the other Stoke subs. However this was not the case and the teams remained the same for both sides.
In my opinion, we surendered possession too early in this period and were therefore pushed back and remained deep in own own half. This demanded a lot of an increasingly isolated Afobe to hold the ball up when it was played to him. Admittedly he was marshalled well by Zouma and battled well, showing a physical presence. However, having been beaten to the initial headers, he seemed slow to react and close down the 2nd ball. There is a lot of him to move but he seems off the pace.
Stoke had numerous corners which we dealt with well, but to give us more defensive height, S Cook replaced Mousett, especially important as Crouch had just come on for Stoke too. This was tried at Everton, and we conceded almost immediately. I’m not saying it was Cooks fault, but the same happened again today as Diouf hacked in to the net past Begovic from close range from a cross.
We were on the back foot for the rest of the game and you just sensed that an equaliser was coming. L Cook was having less influence on the game and Eddie replaced him with Arter with about 15 mins left. Harry was immediately into his energetic best, running at the opposition like a possessed bulldog. Just like the Harry of old. Pugh also came on late for Ibe. There was some heroic defending in this last period. Last ditch tackles and diving headers. I haven’t mentioned Ake, but he was superb, especially in the first half. Franno also is making a resurgent return to form and Daniels looked fired up from first minute to last.
So after 5 final nail biting minutes of injury time, the whistle was met by ecstatic celebrations from the away fans. Even our calm Eddie gave a shouty fist pump, such was the importance of these 3 points.
Begovic -8 – 1 very good save and some excellent ‘time management’
Daniels -7- I really like this guy. From league 1 up to the premier league and he never looks out of place
Francis -8 – great leadership, attitude and effort
Smith -7- some great runs in first half. More defensive in 2nd.
Ake -8- so composed. Superb. Reads game so well.
L. Cook. -8- looks the real deal. Great passing in 1st half. Now has his own song too.
Surman -7- great goal. Overshadowed by L Cook but better for it.
Stanislas -7- scored penalty. Involved in 1st goal(?).
Ibe -7- getting better each game
Mousett-6- not quite ready yet. Raw but has pace and strength
Afobe -6.5- never really offered a goal threat but a useful presence in both boxes and won penalty.
Subs Arter 7
Pugh not really on long enough
Audenshaw Cherry concluded…
Tinpot Club added…
The substitution is an interesting talking point. The last thing you want with Crouch coming on is for him to position himself against a full back in the channel and knock it onto an onrushing Stoke forward or midfielder. With 3 CB`s they can cover the width of the pitch much more effectively and protect the full back in ariel duels.
That said, I think their goal was a consequence of a bit of confusion in our back 5 as to who was picking up who. Probably down to the substitution. I`m sure all our supporters were thinking Everton and here we go again at that stage.
Overall I believe it was the correct decision. Crouch huffed and puffed but thought we contained him really well. By the 75th minute when Arter came on, we looked comfortable for the rest of the match. Stoke obviously ran out of ideas but Arter deserves a lot of credit for his composure too.
Good report Uttoxeter! A few thoughts to chuck out there:
It was billed as the game to kick-start Stoke`s season by Hughes pre-match. However they didn`t look or sound particularly ‘up for it`, both in the stand or on the pitch. Instead it was us Cherries as we often do, who started the game at full pace. Hassling and pressing Stoke looking for a mistake.
Stanislas could have taken a rash shot for the first goal, but his calmness in turning and teeing up Surman took 3 Stoke defenders out of the game. Surman’s strike fizzing along the turf from the inside of his boot into the very bottom corner was a great strike.
Shawcross very clumsy in taking Afobe down, penalty coolly converted by Stanislas. We hadn’t stopped celebrating the first, and then there’s a penalty and a second! Stoke didn’t know what hit them.
We continued at it, and Ibe perhaps should have made it 3, but was very unlucky with his breakaway run and shot. Somehow a mixture of keeper and defender stopped it on the line.
The last 10 minutes of the first half signaled warning signs, as we took our foot off the gas and had to deal with pressure for the first time. It was a massive relief to get in a half time 2-0 up, and in no small part thanks to Asmir Begovic. He made a stunning save from Diouf in front of the traveling fans.
Second half was basically a siege. We struggled to get any foothold or possession, we got deeper, and basically left Afobe to it by himself. And he was struggling to make anything stick up against Zouma, who beat Benik every time.
We got past the hour past and I felt that was significant, however it wasn’t long after that when Diouf finally got it past Begovic, off the bar I believe in a scrappy goal. Immediately before Steve Cook had come on in a change of shape, and I think that upset the penalty box marking as Diouf seemed in far too much space. It was a foothold for Stoke and the away end’s nerves were starting to jangle.
Peter Crouch comes on much to the cheers of the home fans, however I thought the aerial route wasn’t the best for Stoke. The wind was only increasing in power and the number of passes and crosses going astray suggested that keeping it down and short was a better tactic. Stoke and Hughes weren’t having any of that though, they felt a good old fashioned one dimensional hoofing contest would serve them better. It was up to Franno and Ake to deal with it.
I’ve no idea why Hughes took off their best player Jese. He was linking things up for them and looked dangerous. He also had a penalty shout, that from the away end looked overly theatrical.
Stoke ran out of ideas, but it was a close run thing. I wouldn’t say we were ever comfortable! Arter had a decent cameo, coming on for L.Cook to add fresh legs to the middle. It was good to see Harry celebrating a positive result.
Begovic 8 – Massive save at a crucial time, and commanded the box well during the aerial onslaught.
Smith 7 – Good work for the opening goal, up and down, did his job.
Francis – 8 Made many tackles, kept things simple when it was needed, made no real mistakes.
Ake 8 – Probably my MOTM, headed and kicked everything, but with perfect timing and composure. Makes everything look easy.
Daniels 6 – Quiet afternoon perhaps, but didn’t really put a foot wrong
L. Cook 7 – He’s just too good for Stoke, his touch and speed of thought puts him a second ahead.
Surman 7 – Great finish, neat and tidy game, starting to form more understanding with Cook.
Stanislas 7 – Managed to have a quiet game, whilst setting up one goal and scoring the other?! Stan takes a while to get to his best, hopefully that’s now coming.
Ibe 7 – Like Cook, his touch and speed of thought gives him time and takes pressing opposition players out of the game. His tricks now come off instead of failing.
Mousett 6 – Pressed hard first half, put a shift in, without really getting a chance to shine.
Afobe 6 – Won the penalty and was lively first half, but put us under constant second half pressure with his inability to get one over Zouma.
With Cook and Surman seemingly being our cemented central midfield, we might have one department at last nailed down. Finding the best combination around and in front of them is going to be tricky though.
Mousset did ok, isn’t really a number 10. King and Defoe – we know is a struggle to fit together. We have a knack of getting results with Afobe. – I wouldn’t mind seeing Ibe come into a number 10 position for a go, Ibe and L.Cook both when under close pressure seem a blur of feet to get themselves out of it. Seeing them link up more could be interesting, they are both talents we need to allow to flourish.
Defence did it’s job against an unimaginative Stoke. There will be much tougher, higher quality opposition for sure. But it’s a big 3 points to put us back into the mix. We’ll see what some changes for Boro can do, then test ourselves against yet another top side in Chelsea.
Audenshaw Cherry concluded…
I thought of a headline.
‘Too many Cooks spoil Hughes’ broth’
(I’ll get my coat)