December 5 2013 Latest news:
Friday, November 9, 2012
I strongly suspect that the odds on Stoke City being involved in a thrilling game of football are currently slightly longer than those available on me becoming the next Pope.
No one can doubt that they have been effective and established themselves in the Premier League, but they really are the antithesis of the sort of football that we have been raised on at Carrow Road.
Watching that sort of thing week after week must do terrible things to your mind, as was demonstrated in the post match interviews when we were afforded a brief trip to the alternative reality that Tony Pulis has created inside his own head.
This strange land is characterised by a paranoia so strong that it makes Arsene Wenger look positively open-minded, turning a team of red and white striped behemoths into vulnerable little puppies at the mercy of evil officials.
Listening to Pulis after the match it appeared that I had totally overlooked the sinister conspiracy on the part of the referee and his assistants to rob Stoke of a result that their insipid performance had apparently deserved.
Pulis was particularly upset about the booking of Charlie Adam on the basis that he had been pushed by Javier Garrido and should have had a free-kick.
However, it can be clearly seen on the replays that Adam looked for Garrido and the moment he felt the slightest touch, hurled himself to the ground.
While that may have won a free-kick on another occasion on the basis of the ridiculous modern theory that any contact justifies a theatrical fall, this time Adam paid the price for going down much too easily, and not for the first time in the game.
While Pulis may have felt that he had a defendable position on that one, he then moved onto the foul on Robert Snodgrass by Andy Wilkinson, which led to City’s goal.
In this case, however, the unarguable contact (significantly greater than that on Adam) apparently wasn’t enough to justify the City player getting a free-kick. No double standards there then…
Pulis is always pretty irascible, but he seemed particularly grumpy on Saturday. Perhaps he took exception to the Barclay’s chant of “You look like a chav” or maybe he is feeling the pressure of finding that his side’s one-dimensional approach is being neutralised by more and more teams.
We all like to see our team win in style, but that was never a realistic prospect against opposition who got numbers behind the ball while launching long balls at a giant target man and hoping to pick up something from a knockdown.
In many ways it was almost a carbon copy of last year’s fixture, although, thankfully, with a better end result, but what was significant for me was the fact that City are showing that they are mastering the art of protecting narrow leads and “winning ugly”.
In reality (an area probably marked “there be dragons” in Pulis’ mind map), they withstood the inevitable aerial barrage with very few alarms despite losing two of the back four to injury during the game.
While only three league clean sheets were kept in the whole of last season, City have already notched up that many in the first 10 games, with two in the last three, a sure sign that Chris Hughton and his team are getting their message across to the players.
I still don’t think we’ve seen the finished product as far as this year’s City team is concerned, but most fans would agree that the last three weeks have seen big leaps forward. There are still areas to be addressed before everything clicks but all the signs are that Hughton’s City have now put their difficult start to the season behind them.