Martin Smith: It's diffcult to see where Stoke City's next win is coming from
THERE were positives to take from Stoke's goalless draw with the Baggies – we didn't lose, we kept a clean sheet and the fans stayed with the players throughout. They even gave them a generous ovation at the final whistle.
But there were also some big negatives which have to be dealt with too – not for one second did we ever look like winning, it wasn't until the 92nd minute that we got a shot on target, and it was as dull and lifeless a Premier League match as you're likely to see.
Fair enough, West Brom were no great shakes, but then they didn't have to be. They were happy to take a point.
As a result, they are now well on their way to another 50-point finish in the top flight and the billing of Midlands "top club" for a second successive season.
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Our own league record now stretches to just eight wins in our last 41 league games.
We are having so much trouble creating chances and scoring that it is becoming increasingly difficult to see where our next victory will come from.
Something is just not right at Stoke at the moment.
A win will come, of course, but it will probably have to be via a very fortuitous set of circumstances.
We are slow and cumbersome in attack and laborious going forward. There is no spark to our play and no suggestion that somebody is going to produce that little bit of magic which could turn even a lacklustre display into a victory.
The "Fuller" spark is no longer there, and now we really do begin to see how much we relied on him.
All things considered, you'd think we'd be doing all we could to try to resolve this worrying state of affairs.
Instead, rather than make significant changes to the starting XI, we seem content to keep toiling away with the same players in the same positions, perhaps in the hope that something is suddenly going to click into place and we can banish the scoring problems which have beset us now for two seasons.
I'm all in favour of not flailing around wildly with team selections and tactics in a bid to pull a result from somewhere, but perhaps a return to the sort of line-up we saw against Liverpool and Southampton over Christmas might be worth a try.
We scored six goals in two games then, but have now scored just six goals in 10 league games since then.
Strangely, our run of only one win in 10 league games has not seen us move significantly in the Premier League table. We have still been able to maintain 10th or 11th place throughout January, February and now March.
However, the sizeable buffer we once had to those teams below us has now been all but eroded. The reality is that if Wigan were to win their game in hand on us, we'd be just FOUR points above the relegation places.
If that's not a wake-up call then I don't know what is. We have to snap out of this run and we really need to start looking at what we're doing.
It is, as the chairman correctly pointed out, a lean run of form, but it is one which is now being to get very worrying as well.
I honestly don't believe we are going to get drawn into the relegation battle, but we could be on our way to posting our lowest points total in five years in the top flight, and that in itself raises serious questions about the future.
Tony Pulis has said we continue to be a work in progress, which is true, of course, of any club.
No club can casually assume they will continue to move onwards and upwards season after season.
But far from progress at Stoke, right now we are seeing a worrying regression.
After three stellar seasons to kick off life in the top flight, we have undoubtedly stuttered more recently, and this despite the massive financial backing of the Coates family.
That doesn't mean we have to throw out the baby with the bath water and forget all of the good things we've enjoyed in recent seasons, but it does mean the manager has to come up with some new ideas.
Crossing your fingers, while you maintain the same approach and hope things work themselves out, is a dangerous way to go.
Over the past two seasons we're the lowest scorers in the entire country, and I'd humbly suggest this isn't a situation which is simply going to rectify itself without some serious soul-searching.
Less than two years ago we were playing the best and most effective football I've seen at Stoke since those heady days of the mid 1970s.
The progress during that wonderful run was clear for everyone to see. We looked incredible at times and our results bore that out.
Since then, though, the progress has been in the infrastructure of the club with regards to training facilities, the stadium and the academy. On the field of play, we have shown few signs of moving on.
The saddest thing of all about this run of form is that it has ignited so much bad feeling and brought former tensions bubbling back to the surface.
If our performances on the pitch have helped to sour the weekly matchday experience, then so has the constant bickering of so many of our supporters, who seem hell bent on ripping into each other and venting their frustrations on a daily basis.
I never thought things would be like this after five years in the Premier League.