Martin Smith: 'We're not continually last on Match of the Day by accident'
OUR defeat by West Ham sparked an unmistakable shift in fans' reaction as many openly voiced their dismay at Stoke's performance.
It's been coming for a while.
Not that the criticism was aimed at the players. No, it was manager Tony Pulis who bore the brunt of the dissatisfaction.
It was all very sad, and something I don't think any of us wanted to see at Stoke again.
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We've had this sort of thing all too often down the years, but we can't pretend it didn't happen or that it shouldn't be discussed in an open and frank way.
The catalyst for what happened was not just the defeat, but also the latest in a series of below-par displays.
Yet again, we didn't really create any chances as the goalscoring woes which haunted us last season returned to trouble us again.
Like many Stokies, I had high hopes for this season. We had no European distractions and the owners had again dipped deep into their pockets to give TP the players he wanted.
And there were promising signs early on. We played pretty well in games at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford, and again dug deep to take a point from Manchester City.
These highlights have been few and far between though.
Our away record has been bitterly disappointing, and even in those games where we've got a result we've rarely looked all that convincing.
We had hoped for a top-10 finish, but some are now beginning to worry that we might get sucked into a relegation battle.
The problem Stoke have is that the 90 minutes are all about the result, nothing else.
This is because TP continues to pursue an approach that seeks to kill off games rather than go out to win them.
When we get a decent result, people are prepared to tolerate the poor football, but when you take away the result, as happened on Saturday, there's nothing left.
Yes, football is a results-driven business, but not to the detriment of everything else. It must also entertain and inspire.
It's true, of course, that we'd rather see a dull 1-0 win than a thrilling 4-3 defeat, but there is such a dearth of entertainment in most of our games that after a while it can wear you down.
We're not continually last on Match of the Day by accident. It is our deliberate approach which is responsible.
And no matter how much TP and others try to perpetuate the "plucky underdogs" philosophy, this is no longer the case. This is not 2008.
If we'd been getting by on Blackpool's budget and being out-spent by all and sundry, who could complain?
However, we are big transfer movers in our peer group, and in terms of net spending we're right up there in the top three or four of the Premier League.
To the eternal credit of our owners, we have invested a lot of money in the team, but we haven't noticeably improved over the past couple of years.
If anything, we've gone backwards, and our terrible goalscoring record is a by-product of that.
We were the lowest scoring team in the country last season, and only QPR have scored fewer goals than us in the Premier League this term.
And this despite paying a record £8m for a striker in 2010 and then spending £10m on another striker, to effectively replace that record signing, just a year later.
And when TP himself says his strikers need service to be at their best, then all that does is raise more questions about our lack of wingers and creative midfielders to provide that ammunition. TP seemed genuinely upset when responding to the inevitable questions about the crowd's reaction to the West Ham loss, and it's not surprising he should talk about the past achievements of the club and five years of stability in the Premier League.
However, I think he was wrong to talk about the sensible fans understanding this and of other fans needing to take a "reality check".
In fact the vast majority of fans are fully in touch with reality, and almost every one I've spoken to is appreciative of what we've had in recent years and where we've come from.
But they also pay a large part of their income to be entertained on a Saturday, and don't feel they're getting that.
It's not about a lack of appreciation or people expecting too much. It is simply about the football ... or the lack of it. That is what needs to be addressed.
The truth is, we have it in ourselves to do something about this. All the bad feeling and frustration could be washed away with a better standard of football.
We showed against Liverpool, where TP's team were absolutely magnificent, that we can play great football, but we have to go out there and do it.
We have to be more interested in trying to win games instead of effectively stifling our own creativity by doing all we can not to lose them.
We just have to be more positive and get ahead in games rather than only playing after we've gone a goal behind or when we make our predictable 65th-minute substitutions.
But it seems all we are about is grinding out survival, reaching that 40-point "safety" target. This is important, of course, but survival and a decent standard of football are not mutually exclusive.
And TP should stop worrying so much about "managing expectations" and focus just on managing the team.
Increased expectations are a natural result of progress, a compliment really, and only natural in light of the money we have spent.
But even then, at least 95 per cent of our supporters are still grounded enough to understand that a club like Stoke City, with our resources and fan base, are unlikely to be breaking into the top six.
However, they do expect their team to be playing better football than they are right now after five years in the Premier League and a massive investment in players.
We'll have our ups and downs for sure, but fans believe the standard of what they're watching has to be better.
This is what Saturday's woes boil down to, and it's nothing that can't still be retrieved.
I value and treasure the stability we've enjoyed at Stoke City in recent years, and genuinely believe it still offers us our best way forward for the immediate future. But it'll be extremely difficult to go on as we are right now.
So here's hoping for a positive change at Newcastle this weekend. One good performance is all that's needed to lift the gloom, and we definitely have it within us to deliver.
TP has done a lot for this club in recent years, more than we could ever have imagined possible. But it's now time for him to show he can do even more.