It's fair to say that as luck goes, Stoke City haven't really enjoyed their fair share during the opening ten games of the season. Whether it's hitting the woodwork on no less than nine occasions or being royally shafted by some atrocious refereeing decisions things have not gone our way at all.
After losing our opening three games we picked up and found some form despite still not having much luck. We now find ourselves on another run of three league defeats on the spin even though we haven't played that badly at all. At Bolton we were denied a stone-waller of a penalty where Zat Knight resembled a basketball player. Last week against Manchester United, Gary Neville somehow stayed on the pitch despite cynically hacking Matty Etherington down twice in a matter of minutes. Yesterday we saw a fairly average performance from the Potters but we managed to get the lead that has been so elusive to us this year. I say "get the lead" as obviously Lee Probert managed to see a foul to deny us a good goal again (he also disallowed a perfectly legitimate goal at Villa Park last season.)
So after ten games we find ourselves sitting on ten points with the knowledge that we should have more on the board than we actually have. The issue now is how to move forward in our next few games. November is potentially a huge month for us. Next week's fixture at Sunderland (who have today been spanked by the Toon) has to be viewed as a "must not lose game" to give us some hope for the following few weeks. Two home games against Birmingham and Liverpool are followed by a trip to our friends in Smethwick with a tasty looking fixture against the "new money Mancs" at the Brit to complete the month.
The question is how will TP play next week's visit to Wearside? Clearly a trip to the Mackems isn't going to be an easy place for us to start getting some points again but after a truly demoralising display against their bitter rivals perhaps an early goal for Stoke would really get the natives restless? This will be a big call for the gaffer to make, he has without doubt set us up in a more positive system since the acquisition of Jermaine Pennant and there aren't many teams in the top flight who play with two out and out wingers.
Over the years TP has built our success on being very solid so I'm sure he is perplexed by the soft goals we keep conceding, perhaps the temptation will be to go back to basics and pack the midfield with grafters. Personally I'm hoping the boss continues to be brave (hopefully braver given some of his selections.) It was great to see Tuncay given a start at Goodison and he was without doubt our most positive player on Merseyside this weekend. With any luck TP will continue to back the little Turk and we will see the return of Jermaine Pennant from the start.
If any area of the team needs some work it has to be the back four. I honestly can't put my finger on what's going wrong there. We still have the same reliable individuals who are performing to a decent standard in general but we look full of mistakes at present. I have for a while been scratching my head at the amount of times we dally in possession or allow the ball to bounce instead of clearing our lines. There's nothing major that can't be sorted but we do need to improve and start getting clean sheets again if we want to start picking up points. The only thing I would perhaps look at is freshening things up personnel wise in an attempt to solidify the unit again. Probably our best defensive performance of the season was against Fulham in the League Cup, so I would possible look at a foursome of Wilko, Huth, Ryan and Higginbotham.
I'm certainly nowhere near panicking yet as we shouldn't have any problems surviving with the players the gaffer has at his disposal. That said we do need to start getting back on track and picking points up soon. We have looked better going forward but a mixture of bad luck in front of goal and some horrendous decisions from the officials have conspired to hold us back. If fortune does indeed favour the brave TP will employ both of our exciting wingers as well as Tuncay at the Stadium of Light and we will get November off to a flyer next weekend.