Stoke City: Fans give their views on the season so far
A FOOTBALL-FREE weekend has given our Stoke City fans' panel the chance to reflect on the Potters' efforts in the first three months of the season.
Opinions are divided about City's evolution in playing style, the entertainment value on show and the title of the club's greatest-ever manager.
Who has been your player of the year so far?
Rob Doolan (SCFC blogger at chiefdelilah.co.uk): Steven Nzonzi. He's been nothing short of a revelation since he signed and is the best central midfielder to play for Stoke City in a long, long time.
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Angela Smith (former world squash champion and life-long Potters fan): Steven Nzonzi. He has rarely put a foot wrong, has brought new energy to the midfield and looked assured throughout. He'll become a Stoke great over the years I believe.
Lee Lycett (season ticket-holder for more than three decades): Steven Nzonzi. He has been a consistent performer in the defensive midfield role, cool in possession, very rarely giving the ball away. Special mentions also to Ryan Shawcross, Robert Huth and Asmir Begovic.
Rob Ledgar (Six Towns Radio presenter and owner of tee-shirt producer stoketshirts.co.uk): Steven Nzonzi – his consistency has been excellent and he's been a key figure in the team this season.
I hear he's recently turned down a chance to play for the national team DR Congo. Chris Coleman is searching desperately for a Welsh connection, but it is yet to be ratified by Aaron Ramsey.
After having nearly a third of the season to judge, what do you think of the transfer business Stoke did this summer?
RD: Erm, decidedly mixed. Nzonzi, obviously, has been terrific. Ness, Edu, Owen all seem miles away from any kind of meaningful involvement. Not convinced we've found Adam's best position yet, nor Cameron's for that matter, although both have shown promise in fits and starts. I've been impressed with Kightly, he always looks direct and dangerous. The jury's still very much out on our business as a whole though.
AS: Excellent, of course we are never satisfied and TP will be the same. It would have been nice to get in a full-back and goal scorer, but the players we have seen so far have improved the squad and we haven't really seen Ness or Edu yet.
LL: Other than Nzonzi I've also been impressed with Geoff Cameron who has acquitted himself well at full-back and briefly in midfield. Long term I would like to see Cameron in midfield with Nzonzi and Charlie Adam.
Adam has been blowing hot and cold, but obviously possesses class.
The jury is still out for me on Michael Kightly, while Michael Owen has yet to prove the many doubters wrong.
RL: Excellent value for money; good acquisitions that have improved the team.
City are trying to evolve their playing style this season. What do you think of the changes so far?
RD: We're trying to keep hold of the ball more, which is a plus, but the positive stuff we were playing at the start of the season seems to have given way to more attritional fare. People claim we're playing 4-5-1, but to me it's still 4-4-1-1, complete with midfield 'cage', two banks of four, withdrawn striker etc. We just have a midfielder playing as the second striker, in Adam, rather than a forward. The lack of pace in attack remains a huge problem as well.
AS: I think it's a matter of patience. We are playing some good football in patches and the players look more comfortable on the ball. We can always resort to "hoof ball" when we need it.
LL: After eight games I was quite impressed, our ball retention has improved vastly and we have performed admirably against some of the top teams. The last three games have been poor spectacles with very little attacking threat. It's obvious we need to improve in the attacking third particularly in front of our own fans.
RL: Evolution takes time and we must remember that the most important thing is remaining in the Premier League. I don't get ahead of myself and expect too much with Stoke City, I can see progress and am happy with things in general.
What is Charlie Adam's best position?
RD: His best position has always been as part of a genuine three-man midfield where he's afforded the protection and freedom to pull the strings. We don't play that way though, so he can only really play where he's mostly been playing, just behind Crouch. He's certainly not a winger, that's for sure!
AS: Not where he is playing at present! I would like to see him playing deeper as he did at Blackpool, but he's a quality player and clearly wants to do well at Stoke. The goal on Saturday will have done wonders for his confidence.
LL: Definitely not on the wing. I'd like to see him just be allowed to play his game in the centre of midfield.
RL: Midfield! He's a breath of fresh air and a ball he played against QPR from centre midfield to a wide position into space was truly sublime and a few notches better than anything we're used to seeing. A free role would be an ideal position for him to play in.
Stoke's recent games have been criticised for lack of entertainment. Would you be happy if City continued to have one of the best defensive records in the league, but remained one of the lowest scorers on their way to finishing in mid-table?
RD: I really wouldn't. We have to stop acting as if we're plucky underdogs who don't belong here. We are an established, expensively assembled Premier League team of internationals. We have shown we can play good football while still keeping it tight in the past. There's no reason why we can't do that and, in what looks like the weakest league for ages, have a real crack at the top 10.
AS: I'd be happy with that until we reached the accepted safety area of 40 points, then we can play free flowing carpet football and blow away the opposition.
It would be financial suicide to leave the Premier League this year with the additional finance coming into the coffers. I don't care if we win every game 1-0.
LL: Would I be happy? No. Would I still go? Yes.
Five clean sheets out of 11 games and the joint best defence in the Premier League alongside the champions is something to be proud of and must not be taken lightly. However, we need to find the right balance which we haven't managed to do yet. An injection of high-tempo football, pace and trickery is required.
RL: YES! Football is judged on results and I'm of the let's get to 40 points asap school. It's no major surprise that TP sees clean sheets as the most important thing in any game.
What are your thoughts on the decision to extend the Britannia Stadium's capacity by filling in the scoreboard corner?
RD: It's a step in the right direction. It's probably a good time to do it as well, with the extra TV revenue next year (providing we stay up).
AS: It shows that the club are progressing and I hope that the visiting teams fans will be moved more towards that area. Like so many supporters I think that the tunnel position at present gives a boost to the opposition as they enter the field of play at the Brit.
LL: I would be bursting with pride at the sight of a 30,000 stadium packed to the rafters.
However I have my doubts. We couldn't fill our stadium for an FA Cup quarter-final two years ago. The last thing I want to see is empty seats. The Brit is at its best when it is rocking. Hopefully more promotional offers and entertaining football will enable us to fill it with ease.
RL: Great news and again sees the club making plans to progress. The only thing I hope the club do as a consequence is move the away fans away from the players' tunnel.
Given £5m in the January transfer window, who would you buy and why?
RD: Martin Olsson at Blackburn. We need a genuine left footer to compete with Etherington on the left of midfield, and the Swede is versatile enough to play left-back as well.
AS: I'd buy Max Clayton from Crewe because I think that he will be as good a player as Nick Powell. Alternatively Jack Butland as Tommy Sorensen clearly wants first-team football towards the end of his career and Butland is going to be a great keeper in the future.
I believe we are looking at a Belgian full-back so I'll take that as a given, but Leighton Baines would be nice (though probably a shade more than 5m!).
LL: I'd go out and buy a left-back. I'll leave who to the experts. The new left-back can then compete with Wilko and Wilson (when he returns) for the full-back positions. Geoff Cameron can be released into midfield.
RL: We keep saying right-back and left-back are our weakest positions, but I don't think defence is a problem.
I would spend it on the goal-scoring department, I'd cut my losses with either Jones, Jerome or Owen (whichever TP doesn't fancy) and put the £5m with any money raised to buy someone who's a recognised goalscorer (nearly impossible in January, but he did it with Beattie four years ago). Maybe another with Scouse/Southampton connections – Rickie Lambert?
Give us your select Stoke City XI of all the players to have represented the club since their return to the top flight (pick each player on the basis of their best Stoke form).
RD: Sorensen, Wilkinson, Shawcross, Huth, Higginbotham, Pennant, Whelan, Nzonzi, Etherington, Crouch, Fuller.
AS: This is a tough one. Sorensen, Whitehead, Huth, Shawcross, Wilson, Adam, Nzonzi, Etherington, Fuller, Crouch Walters.
Yes, Whitehead as full-back.
LL: Begovic, Griffin, Abdoulaye Faye, Huth, Higginbotham; Pennant, Nzonzi, Delap, Etherington; Crouch, Fuller.
RL: Begovic, Cameron, Shawcross, Huth, Abdy Faye, Etherington, Nzonzi, Delap, Walters, Fuller, Beattie.
Do you agree with chairman Peter Coates that Tony Pulis is Stoke's best-ever manager?
RD: He's the best Stoke manager in my lifetime, definitely. Think you'd have to put him second of all time behind Waddo though – he did lift a trophy after all.
AS: It's pretty close between TP and Waddo.
I would go with Waddo because I thought that we played outstanding football in the seventies and we won the League Cup (a proper cup).
However, TP saved us from going into virtual oblivion and got us into the most competitive, demanding league in the world and has kept us in it. Now I think I'm changing my mind and because TP might see this, I'll go for TP (just)!
LL: There is no doubt in my mind what a 'smashing' job Tony Pulis has done and is doing. I would rate him second to the great Tony Waddington who produced silverware, two European campaigns and a handful of top-half finishes in the top flight (including two top-five finishes) with a brand of entertaining football.
I would hope in years to come I can say Tony Pulis was the best-ever.
RL: I always felt that TP either had to get us to Wembley or into Europe to compare with what is his only other major rival in my time, Tony Waddington.
Last season TP did both so, yes, I agree with Peter Coates.
It is difficult to compare eras, but I also look at comparative money available to get a club success.
Tony Pulis has been blessed by the Coates family wealth, but back in Waddo's day clubs were on a more even footing as gate receipts were split.
Now home clubs keep all the revenue they generate.