Martin Smith: Stoke City have had a great start to season, but lack of goals is holding us back
WHEN we first saw the fixtures for this season, it’s fair to say most Stoke fans took a deep breath and anticipated a rough start to the season.
There was even talk of us even reaching the end of October with just three or four points to our name.
But after Sunday’s goalless draw at Anfield we’re on eight points from an extremely tricky first seven games.
Perhaps even more impressive is the fact we’ve only lost once during a run of fixtures which included games against Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and the not-so-mighty Reds of Liverpool.
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Even a defeat at Old Trafford in our next match a week on Saturday wouldn’t detract from our good start.
The draw on Merseyside highlighted the best qualities of the Potters, tenacity and superb team spirit thwarting Liverpool at every turn.
The team play for each other and give selflessly of their efforts – the foundations on which our Premier League adventure has been based.
I’d be the first person to admit our style of football is not to everyone’s taste, including some Stoke fans, but it is impossible not to admire the commitment of our players and their unity of purpose.
The rock on which another good season in the Premier League appears as though it’s going to be built is undoubtedly our back four and goalkeeper.
Geoff Cameron, Marc Wilson, Robert Huth and skipper Ryan Shawcross are all playing out of their skins at the moment, while Asmir Begovic is looking to be one of the very best goalkeepers in the league.
With this solid unit performing as they are right now, we have every reason to believe we can start to move onwards and upwards this season.
Tony Pulis always tries to make sure he has his defence sorted out each season as his first priority, and he certainly seems to have achieved that.
If there remain any doubts, then they continue to hover around the subject of goals and how many we look like scoring.
The draw at Anfield on Sunday was the third time in five Premier League visits we’ve come away from Liverpool with a 0-0 draw to our names, but also the fifth time we’ve failed to score there.
We actually had two great chances to score during the first half at the weekend, but both openings came from defensive and goalkeeping errors, rather than something we created ourselves.
In fact, we didn’t really manage to create anything ourselves, and the only other moment of real note came when Michael Kightly failed to pick out a team-mate in the Liverpool box when he got to the byline in the second half, with Stokies praying he’d square the ball to an unmarked Charlie Adam in the middle.
It seems to me that a lack of goals could be the only thing which holds us back again this season, and I’m not sure we’ve yet done enough to address this issue satisfactorily.
When at our most potent a couple of seasons ago, we were playing with Jon Walters and Kenwyne Jones in the middle, and with Matthew Etherington and Jermaine Pennant pinging the ball in from the flanks.
It was this combination which had the critics and pundits sitting up and taking notice at the way Stoke had developed.
Right now we have just Crouch in the middle and Walters and Kightly not delivering as many balls into the middle, while Adam seems to be playing a free wandering role as an attacking midfielder, which either doesn’t suit him or he hasn’t got to terms with yet.
I’m hopeful we’ll get there because the difficulty we seem to have in finding the back of the net may see us being one of the lowest scorers again.
It’s more of an observation than a moan because there is clearly a lot to admire about this current Stoke side and what it is capable of doing.
Of course, in the wake of our 0-0 draw at Liverpool it would be impossible not to mention the antics of Luis Suarez and his latest attempts to get his hands on a BAFTA.
His constant play-acting, diving and feigning injury is getting ridiculous, while his double dive in the second half on Sunday was an outright embarrassment.
We have a player here of undoubted technical ability and outstanding natural skill who could be an inspiration to everyone, but who instead seems obsessed with winning free-kicks and penalties.
It brings nothing but discredit to him and, it’s sad to say, to Liverpool fans as a whole, as they continue to treat him like a hero and, in doing so, defend the indefensible.
It’s a man’s game out there. Sometimes it’s tough and sometimes it’s not fair, but the least you should do is stand up and act like a man.
Take the hits, give some back yourself and look like you deserve the incredible sums of money you get paid each week to be in the firing line.
When you go out there with the premeditated intention to cheat, dive and feign injury you’re selling yourself short and you’re selling the game short too.
Those who do it are a blight on football, and if TP is the only manager currently banging on about it, then it suggests that many of his fellow bosses agree with what their theatrical players are getting up to.
IT’S annoying that we have to endure yet another international break this weekend, our second already this season, but I’m sure I speak for all Stoke fans when I wish our skipper, Ryan Shawcross, all the very best.
He is fully deserving of a first international cap and hopefully he’ll get it in either this Friday when England play San Marino at Wembley on next Tuesday when they take on Poland in Warsaw.
Shawcross is a glowing example of how footballers should conduct themselves on the field of play and we’ll all be so proud of him when he does finally take to the field with those three lions on his shirt.