Just Remember Where We've Come From
Feature by Dan Buxton
Updated Thursday, 26th November 2009
Fans Forum chairman Gareth Ekin gives us his latest column
Well, another week over and on a weekend where there was a 10 goal thriller over at White Hart Lane, Sky gets stuck with one of the worst games at The Brit for a couple of seasons. A save from one of the worst penalty kicks on target you will see and a lovely Stoke move which lead to a goal was all that the game could muster. Even the fantastic performance of Andy Wilkinson was not enough to inject some fire into the freezing home stands.
One thing we did hear on Sunday was the chants of "There's only one Liam Lawrence" followed by "Whelan, Whelan" and to a lesser extent chants for Tuncay. The team were also, rightly or wrongly, booed off at half time, for the first time in longer than I can remember at a league game.
It leaves Stoke fans in a marmite type situation at the moment though in relation to Tony Pulis. One side talking of our lofty heights in the table, we have a stronger squad and have visibly progressed in one season and the fact that we shouldnt have any real issue staying up this time.
On the other side are those who point to our recent dip in performances (including Portsmouth), we will soon end up with nearly £10m worth of players out on loan (including our leading scorer, Kitson) and that whilst we have 19 points, we are still one bad month from being in the relegation zone and this season, teams will probably be close to the record number of points required to stay up and of course, team selections and tactics by Pulis.
What is more odd than anything with this wild west standoff is that, discounting the extremists on each side, that there is little in the way of disagreement with most points each has to say. Yes, we are on 19 points and doing really well, yes we have dipped in form during the last three matches.
Few can struggle to argue with some of the recent decisions that Pulis has made though, persisting with an out-of-position, lacking in form, Rory Delap on the right wing and an unfit, James Beattie on the pitch, whilst a raring to go, class player like Tuncay sits on the bench week in, week out. I must admit, that although I predicted it beforehand, I was gobsmacked by our midfield line-up on Sunday when I saw it. Why would we present such a defensive, lacking in creation, midfield line-up against the leagues bottom club, at home? The trio of Diao, Whitehead and an out-of-position Delap lining up the way they did, spelt one thing only to me; stifle play, sitback and punt it upfront. No-one would admire, but few could argue, if we hadn't got the players to fashion a different, more positive line-up and the amazing run that Wilkinson had, coupled with the attacking play Etherington displayed, showed the problems positivity caused for Portsmouth and utimately, lead to the goal.
I was talking to someone at half time on Sunday who made the remark that the only positive display this season, at home, in the league, was against Burnley and I thought it a bit harsh at first. But, if you take into account attacking endeavour, the will to take a game to another team and flair, then he may have a point.
The big thing is though, how can you say all of this about a manager and then on the other hand, he has taken you to 9th place in the world's best football league with a third of the season gone.
A lot of people will be watching Pulis' next masterstroke in terms of who plays right-back and center-back against Blackburn with Faye back from suspension as, in a way, he may be in a no-win situation. Huth is a center-back and not a right-back in my opinion, but you have to accomodate Faye and Shawcross as a pairing.
One thing remains and that, as fans, we have to remember where we were as close as even 2 years ago (2-2 draw against Barnsley away). As bewildered as we all are at times, Pulis has done a marvellous job and is continuing to build on his successes. Hopefully this is all part of some master plan that will reveal itself and whatever lads take the field in red and white and in whatever position, they will always have my backing and support!