Stoke City 0 West Ham United 1: Struggling Potters suffer new hammer blow
DESPERATE times call for desperate measures ... and this strategy has worked wonders for QPR.
So let’s send Stoke’s first-team squad off to Dubai for four or five days, give them a boozy night out (allegedly) and then watch them go.
• GALLERY: Match Action: Stoke City 0 West Ham United 1
We’ll even run a false story about their shenanigans in next Saturday’s Sentinel just for good measure.
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Anything to help right now.
Sadly for Stoke’s somewhat beleaguered players, you suspect they will be subjected to nothing more glamorous than a week’s soul searching at their Clayton Wood training ground this week.
Tactics, selection, form, confidence, spirit, defensive discipline, attacking prowess... you name it, they will all come under the severest scrutiny as Stoke seek to arrest an increasingly alarming decline leaving the natives understandably restless.
You just hope that the evident despondency among the faithful doesn’t develop into downright unrest.
Neither the manager nor the players deserve that, surely, but they are evidently treading a tightrope with the patience of even their most loyal supporters.
Outright dissent on Saturday was thankfully restricted to the jeers predictably greeting the half-time scoreline and full-time result.
There was also the sad and unusual sound of ironic cheers serenading both Jon Walters and Glenn Whelan from the pitch when subbed late on.
The only pity was that guest-of-honour Mark Stein wasn’t stripped and ready to join the action – only 15 years after his last appearance – because Stoke sure as hell needed the kind of inspiration he once provided if they were to pierce West Ham’s stout resistance.
But for a couple of penalty shouts and Charlie Adam’s injury-time looper against the West Ham bar, Stoke never really had you on the edge of your seat.
It’s not just that they’re not scoring, they are not even looking like scoring.
The intent was there, not least in the selection, but not even the sight of Cameron Jerome and Peter Crouch up front in a more conventional 4-4-2 formation could inspire the kind of service they might have thrived upon.
With Matthew Etherington injured, Michael Kightly off key and Jermaine Pennant heading for the exit door this summer, there was simply no quality supply from a genuine winger.
Crouch, who can hardly buy an attempt (never mind a goal) right now, caused most damage when an attempted overhead kick caught Matthew Taylor flush on the cheekbone and left him looking like he’d trespassed late at night into Robert Huth’s house.
At least Jerome added pace and urgency to Stoke’s forward efforts and, despite no goals and only half-an-attempt, he surely deserves another crack in the first 11 after starting a league game for only the ninth time in the best part of two seasons.
That half-an-attempt came in the second half when he spun close to goal and appeared to have his would-be shooting leg clipped from behind, but replays later suggested it had been a legitimate challenge.
So their second penalty shout, during five minutes of stoppage time, was a far more bona-fide appeal after the ball struck Guy Demel’s hand.
It was ball-to-hand, true, but it was a hand well away from his body.
Perhaps the fact the ball was going away from goal and was near the edge of the penalty area further persuaded referee Jon Moss to turn a blind eye, always assuming he’d even seen it in the first place.
Stoppage time also saw Adam deftly control the ball on his chest and then dip a terrific long-range volley over West Ham goalkeeper Jussi Jaaskelainen and against his crossbar. We had waited about 96 minutes, but finally Stoke had conjured up a genuine and viable effort on goal.
Sadly, luck just wasn’t on their side though.
West Ham were hardly laying siege at the other end, but theirs was a highly-impressive away display for a team losing their last five games on the road and only gaining one more point on their travels than Stoke.
Their breakthrough came seconds before the break when all Stoke had to do was hold their positions to snuff out an attack going nowhere fast.
But once Ryan Shawcross decided to try to nip in front of Andy Carroll, tumbling to the ground amid protests of a foul in the process, he was out of the game and all kinds of possibilities suddenly opened up.
Marc Wilson, who otherwise filled in more than capably at centre-half, was drawn a few yards to his right to leave Jack Collison unmarked to take Ricardo Vaz Te’s neat pass and then finish clinically.
The fact that it was West Ham’s two early subs combining so fatally for Stoke’s hopes was a crushing irony lost on nobody.
And the fact that Collison scored a rare goal on St David’s weekend wouldn’t have been lost on a fellow Welshman shaking his head down by the Stoke dugout.
Tony Pulis finds his back against the ropes right now, no question, but how often in the past has he bounced back off those ropes and come out fighting in the middle of the ring?