STOKE CITY: AN APOLOGY
In common with
most parts of the media, and an overwhelming majority of neutral onlookersother blinkered SAFC supporters, Salut! Sunderland may have gained or given the impression that Stoke’s tactics on Saturday were not only ugly but bordered on thuggery of a kind that Mr Lee Probert ought to have noticed and punished. It has now been drawn to our attention that far from being a bunch of ruffians whose priority is to crowd, obstruct, push and restrain the opposing goalkeeper at set pieces, they are standard-bearers for football’s Corinthian spirit and the aesthetic joys of the sport at its best. Sunderland fans, in particular, reek of sour grapes and are just jealous because Rory Delap never put in a menacing long throw in his time at their club. We therefore apologise unreservedly to Mr Tony Pulis and the players, staff and supporters of Stoke City.
Now let Pete Sixsmith embrace the mood of contrition …
The New Testament, I think, says: “Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye and then thou shall see clearly to caste out the mote from thy brother’s eye.” That just about sums up my more reasoned reaction to my immediate reaction to Saturday’s disaster at the Britannia Stadium.
As we trooped out from the stand behind the goal and back to the coach we were greeted by grinning Stoke fans, who probably realised that they had nicked a win that was due more to our defensive frailties than to their slide rule football.
My texts to M Salut were full of the frustration that the 2,000 Mackems felt after seeing another feeble defensive display from our team.
It shouldn’t have been like that. Up until the 80th.minute, we had dealt with the succession of long throws, corners and high balls that Stoke had thrown at us. It wasn’t easy, but Mensah and Bramble had covered Gordon reasonably well and it looked like we would hang on for a third successive away win.
But, Pulis outwitted Bruce by making a timely substitution. Off came Wilkinson, on went an attacker in Walters and two up front became three. We were inactive, despite Muntari struggling for fitness as the game entered its final phase; the introduction of Malbranque or Zenden for the Ghanaian might have countered the pressure we ultimately faced and allowed us to attack a reduced Stoke defence.
Two good balls from Pennant found our defence lacking the courage and the intelligence to deal with them. Carew knocked one over the line with his hand, and we failed to pick Huth up for the winner in the final minute. Game over, Stoke scored one more goal than us and had I been a Stoke fan, I would have been grinning at the visiting fans.
Twenty four hours later, it still rankles that we were beaten. Good sides close games down and keep the ball. They don’t give away stupid free kicks as Muntari and Richardson did. They do attack the ball in their own area as Bramble , Mensah, Ferdinand and, most importantly, Gordon didn’t.
It’s clear that we are a decent side. We played some neat and tidy football at times, with quick movement and neat passing resulting in two well taken goals. Sessegnon looked a useful acquisition, Muntari rarely played a bad ball and Richardson and Gyan took their goals well.
But decent will not transfer itself into good unless we stop throwing away leads away from home. We did it at Wolves, we did it at Liverpool, we did it at Wigan and now we have done it at Stoke. All of those teams are below us in the league and had we held out, we would have had enough extra points to put us in a Champions League place.
I realise I am leaving myself open to justified ridicule with that statement, but we need to ask why we can’t do it. Is it mental strength? On a number of occasions this season, I have doubted our mental toughness. It dissipated completely at Newcastle and it seems that in any game in Staffordshire it disappears in the final 10 minutes.
Lee Probert and his assistants didn’t help us on Saturday. Carew was clearly offside for the opener and he handled for the second. Both should have been spotted and weren’t but on both occasions we did not mark him and allowed a limited player to score twice. Not good enough.
The big Norwegian was offside, there may have been a push on the keeper and there might also have been a handball, but otherwise there was nothing for Sunderland to complain about. – from the match report by Martin Spinks at This is Staffordshire
Having taking the beam from my eye, let’s look at the mote in our red and white brother’s eye. I imagine that Pulis realised that our defence was uncomfortable with the ball howitzered in at them and he played to his team’s strengths. I still maintain that is horrible football and I won’t apologise for that. Horses for courses maybe, but Stoke win zero points for artistic impression – not that their fans will give a hoot about that.
Of the Sunderland old boys, Whitehead had a good one, working hard throughout and tracking back when Sessegnon and Gyan ran at them. Delap threw the ball a long way, Higginbotham looks like a carbon copy of Bardsley, Tommy Sorenson applauded the fans after his half time warm up and Danny Collins remained on the bench.
Kenwyne however, had a shocker and the Stoke fans were giving him a rough ride, particularly towards the end. It doesn’t look like a match made in heaven and Carew is much more a Stoke player: big, strong and physical and not afraid to get in the face of opponents. Size apart, that’s not Kenwyne.
A bitterly disappointing end to a day that had started so well, temporarily lifted as Arsenal scored for fun and then plunged back into gloom as the Mags levelled just before the end. I can’t see us coming back from four down, can you?