What a difference 3 days make!
After trudging away from Anfield on Wednesday evening after a 90 minutes where we didn’t get much right on the night, we welcomed Steve Bruce, his massive head and his Sunderland team to the Brit for a barn storming, five goal thriller.
There were plenty of unhappy faces at Anfield and it has to be said that TP got it wrong and played into the Scouser’s hands. At present they aren’t the all singing, all dancing Liverpool that they have been (not by a long way) and for large periods they were pretty average.
We decided to employ a 4-5-1 formation which in truth none of the players looked comfortable with. The overriding feeling was that if we’d had a go at them we could have got something out of the game. In the end we abandoned our original plans and tried to chase the game with a once in lifetime 4-2-1-2-1 set-up!
One of the few bright spots from Wednesday was the effort that John Carew put in despite being isolated for much of the game. I’ve been really pleased with his attitude and commitment in these early showings and he continued his promising form with an excellent performance against the Mackems.
As for the game itself, we got off to an awful start as we failed to clear a ball into Gyan who miskicked the ball and allowed Richardson to finish smartly. In fairness to Sunderland, they began to move the ball around quite smartly without really causing us any further concern.
To Stoke’s credit we kept plugging away and a decent spell of concerted pressure resulted in a number of free-kicks, corners and throw-ins at which the Wearside outfit looked suspect on almost every one. Eventually the pressure paid off and John Carew emerged from a crowd scene to prod home amidst some justifiable claims for off-side.
At the half-time interval the feeling was that it was very much “game on” as despite some decent possession, Sunderland had looked pretty toothless in attack. What followed half-time was a personal disaster for the normally faultless Robert Huth. A hopeful, lofted ball was aimed in Huth and Gyan’s general direction and our German stopper appeared to have everything under control and about to clear his lines. I’m not quite sure what Huthy did but the up-shot was that Gyan managed to pinch the ball off him and slot past the exposed Begovic.
Given our two previous poor outings in the league (against Fulham and Liverpool) it would have been easy for Stoke to wilt under the pressure of the situation. To the lads’ credit they continued to plug away and we forced plenty of goalmouth scrambles without really testing the suspect Craig Gordon properly.
We needed to change things round and TP decided to go for his FOURTH formation in just two league games by taking Wilko off, replacing him with the ever willing Jon Walters and going 3-5-2 to combat the Mackems’ five across the middle.
This change really seemed to work a treat as Huth, Ryan and Higgy (ably assisted by Rory and Deano) were coping well at the back and the extra body in centre of the park began to give us the edge in the midfield battles.
Despite forcing our opponents into a rear guard action it began to look like it wasn’t to be our day until Mackem debutant, Sulley Muntari took a crude swipe at John Carew to earn us a free-kick seven minutes from time. Jermaine Pennant stood over the ball before delivering a peach of a cross into the six yard box where a mixture of Carew’s head and arm followed by the ubiquitous Robert Huth’s knee forced the ball over the line.
At this point if there was to be a winner it was going to be the Potters and although in the circumstances most Stokies would have taken a point it was clear the lads in red and white were sniffing all three.
As the clocked ticked into the 93rd minute yet another pointless challenge by the ever increasingly ill-disciplined Sunderland midfield, once again gave Pennant the opportunity to swing another belter into Gordon’s crowded penalty box.
For some bizarre reason all of Sunderland’s defenders felt it was a good idea not to attack the ball and following a perfectly timed run, our Berlin wall was on hand to prod the ball straight through Gordon to send the Brit into a frenzy of arms and legs!
February remains vital for the Potters and Saturday’s win sets us up nicely for a run of games that could potentially see us all but safe by the end of the month and with any luck have us in the hat for the quarter finals of the F.A. Cup.
Despite us not adding to the squad on deadline day, TP has now shown that we have the capabilities to be more flexible with how we employ our personnel and that could be crucial for us over the next few important weeks.