Martin Smith: Remedies need to be found to cure Potters' travel sickness
WATCHING Stoke City home and away has been like watching two different teams over the past year.
There's the Stoke side we see at the Britannia Stadium which is extremely hard to beat, able to give anybody a game and, playing some great football capable of upsetting any opponents.
Then there's the Stoke City we see at away games.
We're occasionally stubborn and tough to beat, but a side that rarely looks likely to win.
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We may have only lost one Premier League home game in almost a year, but we have also won only one away league game in more than 12 months.
The side which often looks so formidable on its own ground and asks the toughest questions of even the most daunting opponents seldom comes close to scaling such heights on its travels.
The Premier League isn't one of the toughest leagues in the world for nothing and away wins are tough to come by.
But the scale of the drop-off between the level of performance we see home and away, the disparity in these two teams, is what gives cause for concern.
I think we all went to Swansea on Saturday hoping for a solid Stoke display, still bouncing back from that Chelsea defeat and building on the momentum gained by beating Crystal Palace.
Furthermore, we had our fingers crossed that the home side might be distracted by their midweek Capital One Cup game against Chelsea and the chance to reach a major final.
As it turned out, the only side that didn't really look up for the game were us.
Swansea were busy, industrious and inventive and constantly asked questions. We looked laboured and lopsided and just never really got going.
It may have taken the home side until the second half to get their noses in front, but once they did the floodgates opened and we made it four straight league games in which we've conceded at least three goals.
It's tempting to write this off as being 'one of those games' but to do so might be the equivalent of burying our heads in the sand. Perhaps we need to sit down and work out exactly why we are unable to turn in a decent level of performance away from home.
Are we picking the right personnel and approaching the games in the right way?
On Saturday the answer to the first question appears to be "no", while a similarly negative answer to the second question seems to be automatic when we've won just one league game out of our last 21 on the road.
One win, nine draws and 11 defeats represents just 12 points from more than a season's worth of away games, while just 11 goals have been scored in those matches.
Our home form shows why we're never involved in the battle at the bottom, though our near relegation-form away from home shows why we're not yet pushing on.
It is very frustrating to watch Stoke playing away from home at the moment and not because we're not winning many games.
I've seen some truly awful Stoke sides down the years.
But the frustration now comes from watching good players, in a strong squad assembled by Tony Pulis, flailing so badly when we all know that we should be doing better than we are on our travels.
Perhaps we should look to do something a little different?
Maybe open up a little more and not be so rigid in what we're trying to do which, for the record, always appears to be to try and keep a game goalless until the last 20 or 25 minutes and then bring on the substitutes to try and nick a goal.
It's very predictable and the stats show that it isn't really working.
If you're someone who can only make it to the home games and you get to see that Stoke side, looking so powerful at the Britannia Stadium, then you might not get just how tough it can be to watch that same team away from home!
I do genuinely feel that we'll really stake our place in the top half of the Premier League once we finally manage to shake off the cobwebs on the road and start playing with a little more purpose.
Anyway, we can now put away any thoughts of away games as we face two home games in the space of four days; both big games in their own way as we tackle Manchester City in the FA Cup and then Wigan in the league.
In their six most recent visits to the Britannia Stadium Man City have not been able to get the better of The Potters.
No matter how easily and frequently they are able to roll us over in Manchester, they haven't been able to do it at The Brit.
Hopefully we can keep that run going this weekend and book our place in the fifth-round draw for the fourth successive season.
As for Wigan next week, well, that's a game we really should be looking to win.
The Latics have become something of a nuisance to us during our time in the Premier League and to date we have only one win in our last nine games against them.
That's a record we need to start putting right, especially as we're still looking for our first league win of 2013.