Stoke City 1 - West Bromwich Albion 1
Albion celebrated Tony Pulis' 1000th game in management with a draw at Stoke City. Saido Berahino and Brendan Galloway were ruled out with a virus giving Allan Nyom the opportunity to slot in at left back while Salomon Rondon played alone up front with Nacer Chadli behind him.
With just one shot recorded on target each, the game had 0-0 written all over it until the 73rd minute when Jonny Evans blocked Xerdan Shaqiri's cross but the ball fell to Joe Allen to put the home side ahead. But in the first minute of added time substitute Jonathan Leko provided the corner for Rondon to head home and level the scores.
The point lifted Albion into ninth place.
Any visitors arriving from the planet Zod in the last few days who happened to glance at last weeks results might have expected to see a confident Albion team take the game to a defensively fragile Stoke outfit. But of course, for those of us who watch the team week in week out, an ultra cautious effort, low on attacking ambition, was no surprise at all.
An away draw at Stoke (even a Stoke totally lacking in confidence) is not a bad result, but why do we have to go a goal down before we show any attacking urgency? The Pulis credo of 'clean sheets at all costs' has permeated the fabric of the club to such an extent, that the next manager is going to have a devil of a job changing it. Not that I am advocating a change in manager at this point. A boring premier league team will always trump an attractive championship side, and I'm sure the new owners would echo that.
But, grabbing last minute equalisers from set-pieces and eaking out one-nil victories with 25% possession is not a sustainable formula. We have shown in flashes, that when we press higher and support Rondon, we can create chances. Fortunately we must have one of the best chance to goal conversion rates in the league, but as ice hockey icon Wayne Gretzky said "you miss 100% of the shots you don't take".
Not a lot to report - this was absolute tripe and a truly fitting 1000th game for Pulis, epitomised by us somehow getting a result from the game via an injury time set piece.
First half - we basically defended for 40 minutes of it apart from the odd foray into their half, free kick or set piece. The final 5 minutes of the first half we had a go and looked threatening.
Second half - we basically defended for 35 minutes and only really tried to have a go with about 10 minutes to go after we had conceded.
Sure, in both the first and second half there were moments where we looked like we could get up the pitch and create chances but honestly we were so poor on the ball that we wasted any of these opportunities.
What was so annoying about this was that Stoke were so ropey and vulnerable at the back. They got the jitters any time the ball went near their box.
I'm not sure whether losing Galloway and therefore balance of the side was the main cause of this.
I have to say that individually and collectively we defended brilliantly in what was almost a training exercise of a game and I don't think anyone could question the effort or running of our players. They clearly work hard for Pulis. We were just dross when asked to do anything with the ball in open play.
Nothing more constructive to add. Pulis did it again, somehow.
Pulis's Potteries Party Point Preserved
Any hopes that Albion, fresh from a 4-2 victory in their last game, a game in which they might even have gone ahead within 15 seconds of the kick off, might be looking to "take the game" to a Stoke side that hadn't won this season and so lay joint bottom of the table with just one point, and who were giving a first top-flight start to their young goalkeeper were dashed as our kick off possession ended up back at Foster's feet before being fired upfield in some general direction.
The starting line up saw just the one change, Nyom reprising his replacement of Galloway in the left-back role from the previous match, although, we were told, this was because of Galloway going down with a virus, and not just because Nyom is bigger than him, although the commentary team, including ex-Stoke and ex-Albion defensive midfielder (what else?) Keith Andrews, were heard to say that Nyom's left foot was merely for standing on, so perhaps Galloway has less to worry about than Dawson.
Can only recall one incident of goalmouth note in the first half, when Dawson headed out a Glen Johnson toe-poke from under the bar, though there was a shout for a Stoke penalty when Pieters went down under a challenge from Phillips around 10 minutes in; a bit of dawdling on the ball that led to a break-out that Yacob cleaned up around 15 mins; Phillips having a mazy run on the half-hour mark but having no on ahead of him, except McClean, to pass to; Chadli getting booked for getting his foot high when challenging the diminutive Joe Allen.
If I'm being fair, Stoke's possession of the ball at the second half kick off went straight back to their goalie too, but with Albion still happy to sit back, the home side had another good chance five minutes in when Allen, despite his lack of height managed to get above a crossed ball enough to head it down and into Dawson's foot rather than straight at the target.
When watching the game, I got the impression that Stoke were having the better of the possession but the stats 56-44 suggest a much more even game and indeed, had McClean been able to bring the ball under control quickly enough around the 50-minute-mark, he might have got a shot off - but he didn't - whilst a couple of minutes after that we had a repeat of Phillips possibly fouling Pieters in our box, only to see the repeat of the penalty claims being waved away.
Cometh the hour: cometh Peter Crouch, though you couldn't help but think that this was merely a substitution designed to taunt Pulis as to his past in the Potteries?
Shortly after that, we had a shot that the keeper could only parry down into the box but we didn't appear to have anyone there who might have latched onto it, and we also got to hear the commentary team telling us that Foster only starts training on Wednesdays, as a full week of training was too much for him - really?
Around the seventy minute mark we conceded possession yet again via a long aimless ball up to no-one in particular and when Stoke brought this one back, they worked it out to the right from where the cross saw Evans winning the header but only managing to direct it into the middle of the box from where an unmarked Allen was able to slot home as two Albion defenders tried, in vain, to get between him and the goal.
Albion nearly got back into it within five minutes ,after McClean, who seemed to have been getting in the box a lot, got his head to a free-kick only to see the young Stoke keeper make a diving save, shortly after which McClean was rewarded by being taken off, as Morrison and Robson-Kanu came on for him and Yacob.
The double change didn't seem to be getting us any closer to scoring, although Chadli showed some nice control in the box (soft feet!) to bring down a ball from Mozza which he managed to get to Nyom whose shot was then blocked, before the game then headed into the overtime period which saw a Stoke defender, under no pressure, though possibly not getting a call from his debutant goalie, headed the ball out for a corner, from which Rondon headed the ball into the net with another one of those glancing headers after a run outside the near post that got him a goal a couple of games back.
I don't normally give player marks but, seeing as how this was the manager's 1000th game, I will make an exception and give McClean and Rondon a 6, the latter because he scored, and the former for daring to get into the opposition box on so many occasions, whilst everyone else, including the subs gets a 5, because, given our manager's tactics, they weren't really on the pitch long enough to have made much of an impression on the game and, even had they been on the pitch for another 1000 games, those same tactics would pretty much consign our players to having a similar effect on any game, although, given that our next game will also be against another bottom-of-the-table side who also haven't won a game, it shouldn't be long before we get to witness the start of what the Italians might refer to as "un altri mille di questi giorni" - another 1000 of these days - I bet you can't wait!
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