Martin Smith: It’s time for Jon Walters to stand down as Stoke City penalty taker
I HAVE tried to be as even-handed as possible this season, bending over backwards to put a positive slant on things when faced by the serious misgivings of many fellow Stoke fans.
Despite claims to the contrary, I refuse to believe we are in the midst of any type of crisis right now, regardless of what has been a spate of mostly poor results and performances over the past two months.
However, I did find myself taking solace in the ranks of the doubters following the weekend defeat at Craven Cottage.
I didn’t go into the match expecting miracles, but I was hoping for something better than we eventually got.
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It’s not even that we lost the game, but rather the manner in which we approached it and the timid way in which we ambled to yet another pointless (in more ways than one) away trip.
It wasn’t easy to see what we were trying to do at Fulham, fielding a strange starting formation that seemed, to me at least, to have Geoff Cameron popping up all over place, but which didn’t really trouble the home side a great deal.
Fulham were the better side in the first half, and if the goal they scored was something a bit special from Dimitar Berbatov, it was nothing less than they deserved.
Not until after the interval, after we’d gone behind, did we start to look as though we had any real intent about our game, and we were unlucky to see a Peter Crouch effort saved by Mark Schwarzer.
We really should have equalised though when Brek Shea won a penalty on his league debut for The Potters.
Unfortunately, it was Jon Walters who stepped up to take the kick, and his weak and unconvincing effort was easily saved by the Fulham keeper.
He has now missed more penalties than any other Premier League player over the past two seasons.
Surely it is now time for someone else to have a go, despite manager Tony Pulis saying he is happy for Walters to take the next spot-kick we get.
Backing a player in public is one thing, but actually allowing him to risk missing another penalty is very different, so it’s hard to believe we won’t see someone else take the responsibility should we get another spot-kick this season.
Those two great chances aside, it was pretty much the same for Stoke as we eventually ambled to yet another away-day disappointment.
The usual tactic of trying to “keep things tight” and then hope to “nick something” late in the game stopped being effective a very long time ago, as a record of one win in 23 away league games testifies.
And I can’t agree with TP’s recent assertion that we’ve played better away from home this season but haven’t had the breaks.
We’ve actually been very poor away from home, and we’ve had as many good breaks as bad ones this season.
Furthermore, after five years in the Premier League and the amount of money we’ve been allowed to spend by our owners, is trying to “nick something” the height of our ambition in away games?
Are we never going to set foot on an opponent’s ground and actually try to win the game? Is that too much for fans to expect?
And what of the incident four minutes into injury time when, with the clock having already passed the allotted extra time, we won a corner and Asmir Begovic went to go forward for a last, desperate throw of the dice, only to be sent back by the manager?
The decision dismayed fans just as much as it seemed to stun the goalkeeper himself.
It seems we’d rather lose 1-0 than take a chance and perhaps lose 2-0, just as we were more than happy to settle for a 0-0 draw at Liverpool deep into injury time at Anfield last season, rather than allow Rory Delap to hurl in one of his deadly missiles in the the Reds’ box and take a chance on pulling off a famous victory.
We really do need some new ideas away from home, because what we’re doing right now palpably isn’t working.
As a supporter, it’s so hard to understand why we’re stubbornly sticking to our ways in the face of so little reward.
This Saturday sees us return to the more comforting surroundings of the Britannia Stadium, and hopefully we’ll be able to deliver a more convincing performance for the supporters.
We have nothing to fear from the visit of West Ham, so hopefully we can put another three points up on the board.
The reverse fixture at Upton Park was actually one of our better displays this season, at least for 45 minutes, and there’s no reason we can’t repeat it, despite the likely absence of Robert Huth after the centre-half was charged with violent conduct yesterday for his shenanigans at Fulham.
Whatever happens on our travels tends to affect far fewer Stoke supporters, so the secret to raising a few smiles is to get the job done at home.
We fully deserved our win over Reading three weeks ago, and we need to take a positive attitude out on to the pitch against The Hammers.
Everyone is wondering where the spirit showed against Liverpool and Southampton has gone this past couple of months, but it’s still there, ready to be unleashed.
We just have to go on to the pitch and play the way we can, with the right players in the right areas. This is within our own power to deliver.