Martin Smith: Surely it's time to give Jerome a fair crack as solving Stoke's goal problem
IT WAS a relief to get that Reading win under our belts.
It's not like we were really starting to take a worried look over our shoulders, but another misfire or two could have seen us losing our top-half status.
In all honesty, it wasn't a sizzling performance against the Royals, but there's no way it was anything less than a deserved win.
Even before we'd got into our stride, we were the only team creating any chances. The Royals keeper had to make several fine saves to keep us at bay.
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That we made hard work of our eventual victory was just us being Stoke. God forbid we should ever allow the fans to enjoy the final few minutes of a match.
Instead, and we were left, yet again, gnawing at our finger nails as we prayed for the final whistle.
It was not a good way to finish the match, but we held on for the win. That was the most important thing, after all. We needed the three points, and we certainly deserved them.
In truth, we didn't really come to life until the 65th-minute substitutions which saw Kenwyne Jones and match-winner Cameron Jerome replace Peter Crouch and Michael Kightly.
There are those who believe Jones is the better starting option for a Stoke side set up in Tony Pulis's preferred way, and I'm one of them.
I have nothing but the hugest admiration for Crouch and the way he has conducted himself as a Stoke player, but if you're asking me who is better suited to our style of play then it has to be the man from Trinidad and Tobago.
Crouch is a better player with the ball at his feet, but nobody could seriously argue that Kenwyne isn't better in the air.
Given how we play and how we insist on hitting the ball forward in the air, not to mention our reliance on set-pieces, I'm not entirely sure why Kenwyne seems to be second choice?
You could make the case for him being a good impact player, but that sometimes means he comes into the game when we've already gone behind. Surely that is a negative way of using such a dangerous player?
Of course, if we're talking about super-subs, then Jerome is the man, but what sort of future does he have at Stoke?
The manager has made it clear he has no intention of looking at Saturday's match-winner as a starter in his line-up, specifically because of the impact he has on games when entering the fray from the bench.
And you can use stats to back up the fact Jerome indeed doesn't do well for us when he does start.
In the eight Premier League games he has played for us from the off, Stoke have lost six. However, these figures don't tell the whole story.
Of those eight games, six have been away from home, three have been against Manchester City and in five of them he has been played as a winger rather than a striker.
In none of those games has he started alongside Jones, whom he seems to partner well when they are thrown together form the bench as he uses his pace to feed off the flick-ons the big man provides.
Of course, I don't see the players in training, so there may be other factors at work here, but nobody can tell me the eight league games in which Jerome has started represent a fair sample on which he can be judged as a viable regular in TP's team.
We seem willing to try so many weird and wonderful combinations up front, including using Charlie Adam in the hole behind Crouch and Jon Walters in any number of different roles, yet we stubbornly refuse to try Jones and Jerome as a forward two.
And this despite the way in which they often combine superbly to completely transform our stuttering forward play when they're introduced late in a game.
Okay, so what do I know about football? But I'd have thought we'd have been keen to try anything which looks such a plausible idea, especially as we are again one of the lowest scoring teams in the Premier League.
I'm sure there must be a valid reason why TP does not see this as a valid starting partnership. I just hope the reason isn't that we're afraid it might actually work.
Peter Coates, our chairman, told BBC Radio Five Live at the weekend he hadn't been overly keen on the finances of the deal which brought Crouch to Stoke, and that he had only gone along with it to support the manager. Let's be clear, a £15m plus deal to bring in Crouch and Wilson Palacios was a superb display of support from the chairman and his family, but I hope it hasn't left TP in a position of feeling he HAS to play certain players now to back up the arguments he made to sign them in the first place.
Anyway, it's actually good to be talking about a Stoke win again. There was someone on the radio after the game who argued that it was just papering over the cracks.
Hopefully, that isn't the case and the deserved three points against the Royals will provide a springboard from which we can produce a stirring finish to the campaign and cement a first ever top-half finish in the Premier League.