Stoke City: Three points came as a huge relief, claims columnist Simon Lowe
DEEP breath … and … relax.
Three points – no matter how they come your way – are three points.
It wasn't pretty much of the time, but Saturday's victory over Reading did at least put to bed any lingering worries about being pulled into a late-season relegation scrap and leaves us on target for that top-half finish which has to be this season's goal.
The concerns remain – unconvincing at full-back, although Shotton did well going forward, Crouch too immobile and that clean sheet record of earlier in the season seems a dim and distant memory.
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But still the positives were there for all to see.
Jones and Jerome made all the difference when they came on. Steven Nzonzi was back to his imperious best. And Robert Huth scored his first goal of the season.
The Berlin Wall has been the stand-out player over the last few weeks. Always full-blooded, often bloodied and never bowed.
It was great to see him score again because it's been a long time. Huth last hit the net in the Easter Monday defeat of Wolves last season.
There was a time when we could have counted on him contributing between five and ten goals a season, so let's hope this is the start of a little spree.
Huth's defensive none-shall-pass qualities are well-known, but for a German he's also got a great sense of humour.
After Jon Walters was himself bandaged up following an injury during the Arsenal game, Huth wrote on Twitter: "Walters needing a bandage for 6 stitches is classed as a dive in the Stoke dressing room"!
It's the players like Huth who give Stoke City it's spine and soul, but the other encouraging aspect of Saturday's game was the support coming from the stands.
Now, I'm not saying it was anywhere near the baying cauldron which enjoyed every second of the first season after promotion.
But Saturday saw TP's name chanted for long spells in the second half, with the team doing enough to avoid any of the disquiet which has pealed down from the stands a few times recently.
Only just enough, mind you. Although I thought Stoke got better as the game went on especially after the substitutions.
But it's clear that when the whistle blows and the game is on the vast majority of Stokies will put everything into supporting their team.