Monday, 27 February 2012

Stoke City v Swansea City, 26/2/12, Match report

Taking the Heat.

The cards had been dealt such that we got a Sunday appointment with Stoke City at the Brit, and I've alluded to it being akin to being popped into a high temperature furnace, such is the Potters reputation for putting their visitors "through the mill", as it were.

They, of course, had only three days previously returned from an ultimately disappointing reverse at a Europa League tie in Valencia, where, the temperature had been turned up to maximum against them.

That second leg 1-0 reverse had put them out of the competition, and Tony Pulis had received some criticism for sending out a second-string XI, which led some to believe that today's fixture took precedence, and his long term view encompassed Premier League status-retention to be more important than Euro League progression.

To that end, Pulis made 11 changes to start, which proves his later assertion that he felt it vital to be able to rotate the players and that the Europa Cup adventure had indeed taken a lot of effort and energy from players and he felt the need to inject freshness. What can't be argued is the fact that this was their 43rd competitive game of the season.

The Swans, on the other hand, had not played since the Norwich Home defeat, and the team selected was probably the one that most of us fans had expected - with one, as it turned out crucial, difference.

Michel Vorm, our wonderful Dutch keeper, had been struck down with a virus and was replaced by Gerhard Tremmel, for his Premier League debut.

Did this make a difference? In my view, yes, and I'll explain why in due course.

The other thing I'll mention is some parts of the "Stoke City Massive" (the Neanderthal part of their fan base), of which, I know, all clubs have their share, ourselves included - and I'll come back to ours later.

Hey, listen, I don't expect to go Away to be greeted by opposing fans blowing kisses, but here's a tip for some of you Stokies - lighten up a little. The snarling nastiness evident on some message boards was carried into the Stadium and the town itself - here's a reminder guys- the Eighties ended over 20 years ago and whilst I can understand your annoyance at being labelled "just a hoof-ball team" there are 2 things you can do to stop people being so myopic - 1) Sack Pulis if you don't like him so much and stop playing hoof-ball and 2) Mellow out, and start enjoying instead of snarling.

This, of course, does not apply to the vast majority of Stoke City fans, and I met a great deal many more of this type of genuine supporter, who made us welcome and were happy to chat and chew the cud.They have as much respect for us and our style and deserve our equal returned respect, but even some of these types were disappointed with some of TP's tactics.

Anyway, to the game, and the teams lined up as follows........

Stoke City
01 Begovic, 17 Shawcross , 20 Upson, 28 Wilkinson, 30 Shotton (Palacios - 88' ), 06 Whelan, 12 Wilson, 18 Whitehead, 26 Etherington (Jerome - 68' ), 19 Walters, 25 Crouch (Delap - 87' )
29 Sorensen, 16 Pennant, 24 Delap, 40 Palacios, 09 Jones, 10 Fuller, 33 Jerome
Swansea City
25 Tremmel, 02 Williams, 03 Taylor, 04 Caulker, 22 Rangel, 07 Britton, 11 Sinclair (McEachran - 71' ), 12 Dyer (Moore - 71' ), 24 Allen, 42 Sigurdsson, 10 Graham
05 Tate, 16 Monk, 15 Routledge, 17 McEachran, 27 Gower, 18 Lita, 19 Moore

Ref: H Webb
Att: 26,678

From the kick off Swansea started brightly, if a little laboured, but the dominance of possession led to the first good chance created, within the first 5 mins.

Dyer, freed on the right, evaded Marc Wilson and got to the byline, pulling back a peach of a ball from the right to roll invitingly across the box some 8 yds out from goal and central. Sinclair had read the pass and approached the chance only to blazingly side-foot over the bar the clear cut opportunity. Unfortunately, we've seen Scott do something similar before (Aston Villa for one) and although a replay showed the ball bobbling awkwardly just before he struck it, his confidence is so shot at the moment that you feel it went on to partly explain his generally muted performance.

Whilst that may apply to SS, it does not fully explain the overall lethargy of of our team's performance going forward from there.

I felt as if Swansea were quite comfortable within themselves, confident enough in ball retention, but there was an air about us that sometimes pervades, and we're guilty of. I'd best describe it as a certain lack of tempo.

It's as if we're doing things at three-quarter pace only, and I'd argue that it always gives us problems within games. The first 25 minutes yesterday were a classic example.

Swansea had been neat, organised and skillful without at any time being overly threatening. Stoke, for their part, had done what they do well - they are always strong and settled at the back, they are always competitive, and they allied this with a high, fast press to try to successfully limit us in playing out from the back.

There are two key points to be made here, one of which concerns the illness to the missing Vorm and its effects.

We forget at our peril how key he has become- particularly with regard in this instance to distribution and control. Just like (and better) than DDV was in a previous life, Michel Vorm is able to do what Tremmel could not yesterday, that is, play the part of the extra sweeper.

He makes sure that every single roll, throw or (rare) kick, puts the recipient of the pass in both a comfortable and effective position, often the springboard for real attack.

Tremmel's distribution was never awful - it was just that it almost always could have been better.

And thus we began to stutter, which was a shame, because the possession had begun to frustrate the Home crowd, and the first grumblings and mumblings could be heard.

The first goal put an end to that.

Stoke had already tested us aerially from a corner and some throw-ins, ho-hey what's new? However, Etherington's corner on 25 m was different, because this time the delivery and pace was the key.

He swung a fast in-swinging corner left footed from the right which arrived centrally just eight yards out but which had eluded both Graham and Sigurdsson at the near post and coincided perfectly with Matthew Upson's well timed run. The England cap showed again that he scores some crucial goals from corners, and his bullet header brooked no stopping. 1-0, and we were gutted.

Again , the Swans got to keep the ball and Neil Taylor's tremendous run took him past a couple and into the box, but just as he was about to shoot, Upson proved his defensive capabilities with a brilliant sliding tackle that took the ball out for a corner.

Worse was to come for us, the visitors.

In the defensive third, wide out on the right , Joe Allen played a loose pass and the ball ran out for another inviting throw in. Shotton took it, and as with the benched Delap's best efforts, the ball in was more like a cross bulleted into the six yard box, where Crouch's height and timed run allowed him to direct it goal ward at pace.

Here, I'm afraid, was Tremmel's second litmus test, and he failed it because his dive left allowed the ball to slip through his hands and in.

2-0, and I couldn't help but think that Vorm would have saved it.

Harsh? Maybe. Unkind? Definitely. True? Possibly - we'll never know for sure, so nothing other to do but move on.

At half time we Swans chatted amongst ourselves, and I ventured the opinion, in jest, that Vorm's virus seemed to have affected the tempo and pace of our game, and you can tell how desperate we football fans are when a neighbour in the crowd gave the comment some credence. Whatever, we had not been at our best.

One of the things about trying to describe any match is that it's always easy to remember the stand out moments that sometimes make up the bulk of the text, but when I tell you that in yesterday's second half there weren't that many that easily spring to mind, it'll give you the feel that I guess most of us Swans were beginning to feel.

Again, we had the bulk of possession but were still somewhat lethargic. Again, Stoke City pressed and challenged and closed to good effect. Again, the Home crowd cheered every attacking throw in and corner conceded by us since they'd seen our vulnerability.

Dyer curled a left footed shot wide of the post, whilst at the other end, Walters headed down and wide. Rangel too got a shot in from a neat one two with Dyer, but the low drive was again deflected wide.

Stoke replaced Etherington with Cameron Jerome on 68m, the ex-Cardiff player coming on to a chorus of predictable boos from the JackArmy, who had been in good voice, and immediately after, BR sent on McEachran and Luke Moore for Dyer and Sinclair, to try to inject some urgency in the play. It was amusing to hear the Stokies chorus "you don't know what you're doing". I've even heard some of our own fans on GB's and Message Boards say much the same thing.

With respect, I beg to differ.

Sigurdsson had been more prominent in the first half, but BR's ire was reserved for Mr Webb in the second period when the Icelander was shirt tugged by Whitehead in the box, and the Ref apparently informed that he hadn't awarded a penalty because the MF'er "had not gone down".

It may have gotten us back in the game, but I'll be honest and say that from my view it was one of those incidents that sometimes you get/sometimes you don't and, we see so many slight shirt tugs in the box anyway I'm always surprised nowadays when one is penalized.

From the incident, close to goal, the outcome was that Sigurdsson's shot was poked and rolled just wide.

Although both Moore and Jerome were involved in half-chances, Swansea's best opportunity came from a later Steven Caulker header from a Sigurdsson corner, which he met perfectly, only to see the under worked Asimir Begovic instinctively turn the crashing net bound header onto the bar, and away.

Running the clock down, Delap replaced Crouch and Palacios came on for Shotton, and Stoke were home and dry.

2-0, and, on the day, merited.

The Managers after match interviews can be found here.

So what did we, and me, get out of yesterday's journey to the Potteries?

Well, I'll start from a personal point of view.

Travelling with the JackArmy is always fun in itself, and I got to meet not only a lot of Stoke City fans, but also some of our own who I've only known previously from exchanged contact on the net, on various Social Media and GB/MB Swansea City fansites. So fond greetings to Paul, Hayley, Gareth and Hayley's Mum. It was really good to meet you.

You also, of course, get to see some of our travelling "fans" and you wonder why they bother. I'm referring here to a couple of drunken louts who spent the game swearing and cursing at the opposition, and who were, unsurprisingly, ejected not long after the start by the Stewards. And a special word of shame to a father and son (about11/12yrs old) who were genuine competition for each other in the foul-mouth stakes until they,too, were dealt with by some other stewards.

I'm not being either pious or pompous here, but I really do feel sad for the boy. Shudder. As I said earlier, every club has them, unfortunately.

As for the game, the most disappointing thing for me was that perceived "air of lethargy" about us. Sadly, for once, we just didn't seem to be up to the mark we all know we can be.

And thanks to the brilliant Michael Cox, don't forget that the stats tell us that with 26% possession against Swansea's 74%, this was the lowest victorious possession figure in the PL this season- unfortunately, both we and Stoke are the lowest "shots per game" teams in the whole division, and whilst ours dropped from 11.6 per game to 9, Stoke's from 10 to 9 matched us. Ouch, and double ouch.

To complete the analogy that I made in the preview to this game, and to answer the question implied - no, we didn't emerge as some fine piece of Wedgwood. Yes, we did more resemble a piece of Earthenware. But brush off the dirt, let's dust ourselves down, and go again.

I've no intention of criticising individual players - as our Manager says, we're a Team - and that includes us fans and all on the field, so that means for me sucking up yesterday's frustrating efforts in the hope and belief we're capable of far, far better.

The chats I had with a lot of Stoke fans yesterday, of a wide demographic, tells me too that despite their success of the last 4 Premiership seasons, and a European adventure this year thrown in, there is a large percentage of their number who would sacrifice some of that concrete progress for an improvement in the style and fashion of their football.

This is not some esoteric, aesthetic even moot point. Ultimately, our teams perform to entertain us, the fans, along with advancing the business of a football club, and an ignorance of that fact is detrimental all round.

We're on the other end of this dilemma, it seems to me.

There have been times and games this season (this one included) where the frustrations with our team for wanting to seemingly "score the perfect goal" and not shoot, or put laces through the ball when it seemed appropriate to so do, when we've all beaten our breasts in despair.

But, but, we should be careful what we wish for.

Far better, surely, as BR insists, to play out from the back, and to keep doing what we know we're good at doing.

And that starts at Wigan next week.

I also said to friend yesterday that I'd have been more than happy to accept 2 draws from the fixtures at Stoke and Wigan Away, for a return of 2 pts. We lost yesterday, so I guess that a win at Wigan will have seen my team exceed my expectations.

I hope that we can do it, so,

Onward, Swansea City.

1 comment:

MelinJack said...

Brilliant blog, I must say myself and my two sons travelled to the Emirates earlier in the season and like you, witnessed a father and son of about 11-12 years old shout terribly abusive language at the Arsenal fans to the side of us, we (and the few Arsenal fans) that witnessed it were in such a state of shock, we missed most of the game watching all the chaos they caused. it must be the same pair??? anyway as I said, I try to read all your blogs and i've enjoyed everyone of them. Jackarmy.