Martin Smith: Victory was much-needed, but we're still waiting for Potters to find top gear
IN the 40-odd years I've been following the Potters, I don't think I've ever seen a bad win.
In fact I doubt whether such a thing even exists, given that the purpose of the game is to try to win.
So come the final whistle last Saturday, I was more than satisfied with the three points and happy to see Stoke move up a few places in the Premier League table.
You never want to see your team get too close to those bottom spots, so this was a much-needed win against a team who seem destined to be major players in the relegation dogfight again.
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However, there is little point pretending it was a particularly good Stoke performance.
We never really clicked into gear, and although we did have other chances to score, we can consider ourselves fortunate Adel Taarabt didn't have his shooting boots on or feel like passing to his better-positioned team-mates.
If QPR didn't quite get the result they perhaps deserved, then you can rest assured that the same will happen to us this season when we come up empty-handed in a game we should have at least drawn or even won.
That's football, and you take the breaks and the points when they come.
As a team clearly in a transitional phase at the moment it's important for us to get points on the board while we're working out what our best formation is.
Ultimately, we also have to work out what our best side is as quickly as possible and start finding some good form.
Then we'll be able to relax a little and start enjoying the season.
Last year, people claimed we weren't at our best in the league because of our European commitments and that we'd see a big improvement this time around.
Well that hasn't happened. In fact, the issues which dogged us towards the end of last season have carried over into this one.
We're not losing too many games, but we're not winning many either.
We simply don't look dangerous enough in front of goal right now.
Now as many pundits have already said, I don't think we're in any real danger of relegation.
That doesn't mean we should be complacent about the possibility of getting dragged down, but we do appear to have enough about us to not have to worry too much about that horrible fate.
This begs the question, though, of whether we should simply be happy we look too good to go down, or whether we should be looking for real signs of progress this season?
Of course, staying in the Premier League is always our first aim, but competing with our peers and trying to finish above them has to be a target as well.
And who are our peers exactly? Well, for my money they're West Brom, Sunderland, Fulham and West Ham this season.
They're the teams we should be measuring ourselves against, while the likes of Norwich, Swansea, QPR, Reading, Southampton and Wigan are clubs we should be seeing behind us in the rear-view mirror.
So far this season though, we find ourselves below West Brom, Fulham and West Ham; both in terms of league position and performances.
West Brom and Fulham have been playing some good football, while The Hammers have surprised everyone at how well they have retaken to life in the Premier League under Sam Allardyce.
Given the amount of money we have spent we simply have to be looking to compete with these sides.
And any excuses to explain why we shouldn't expect this are going to look pretty flimsy.
West Brom, in particular, have been a revelation this season, and their progress has made lots of people sit up and take notice.
They have not spent heavily, they're on their third manager in three years and they are in the top five of the league table after 11 games.
There's still a million miles to go until the end of the season of course, but that's a position we'd be thrilled to be in ourselves.
And if West Brom can do it, then we know we have it in us to get there too, even though finishing in that position is probably beyond us... as it will ultimately be for the Baggies too, I imagine.
Our next four games pit us against sides who we should see as our Premier League peers. We face West Ham away on Monday,d then have back-to-back home games against Fulham and Newcastle, before making the trip to West Brom at the beginning of December.
These are the games which will determine the kind of season we're going to have this year and it's against these teams that we'll see just how Stoke City are really shaping up.
None of these sides have out-spent us and none of them have any more resources than we do.
We endured a fairly tough start to the new campaign, playing most of the top teams in quick succession.
But these are truly our biggest games of the season because they tell us where we really are in the Premier League and just how far we've truly come so far.