Stoke fans would be unanimous in the thinking that last season was the worst that Matthew Etherington has had in a Stoke shirt. Add in Jermaine Pennant’s lack of game time due to “off the field” issues and the shocking decline in both quality of play and attacking flair has been clear for all to see, especially over the past twelve months.
Undoubtedly Stoke City’s best spell in the top flight coincided (and some would say ended) with their FA Cup final appearance in 2011, playing two out-and-out wingers, supplying crosses for the strikers to feed off; unsurprisingly when the wide men under perform, so does the rest of the team.
With this dip in form in mind it has become increasingly important for the club to bring in another genuine winger to challenge for the these positions, something which has never happened from the moment they joined the club.
Enter Michael Kightly
The former Wolves midfielder signed on the dotted line in early August, which represents the manager’s desire to introduce him into the first XI as soon as possible. Tony Pulis told local paper ‘The Sentinel’, “Our two wingers, Matthew Etherington and Jermaine Pennant, have been brilliant for this football club over the past few years. But they went off the boil in terms of goalscoring last season, so we wanted to address that.”
Now I am in no way saying that Kightly is the definitive answer to Stoke’s problems, because he isn’t. But the above statement has reverberated ever since the signing was confirmed and as such has presented the argument, who will start for the Potters and what will be the reasoning behind any change?
This is where the stats come into play, as a winger in a Stoke team you need to consistently deliver, if you don’t the team will suffer due to the general lack of pace and creativity. So lets see which player performed better last season across the areas that a Stoke City winger is expected to shine:
As mentioned earlier Jermaine Pennant spent a large chunk of his season on the bench whilst Michael Kightly was recovering from an injury set-back, on loan to Watford. Matty Etherington on the other hand, was chosen to start in 30 of Stoke’s Premier League games, meaning he racked up 677 more minutes on the pitch than his team-mate and a massive 1188 more minutes than Kightly.
Tony Pulis likes his wide men to be able to get back and support his full-back. Despite playing nearly 700 minutes less than Etherington during last season, Pennant made more tackles; ok only one more but still. On top of that having played nearly 1200 minutes more than Kightly, Etherington only managed one more tackle. So from this figure it is clear which of the trio is less accomplished at getting “stuck in”.
Crossing is a major part of a wide midfielder’s role which becomes further compounded when you consider Stoke’s reliance on headed goals. Etherington looks like he is beginning to fall behind here, making less accurate crosses than a man who started 12 less league games in the same side. Things could start to look up if Pennant can put his troubles behind him and perhaps Kightly will have a big part to play if he can pick a cross.
Although his form has suffered, Etherington still comes out on top in terms of assists. Having said that Pennant was only one behind, mainly due to his excellent set-piece delivery. Wolves were poor last season and rightly relegated, therefore the assists figures here don’t flatter the Potter’s most recent acquisition. Given his accuracy from crosses there is certainly reason for optimism.
Taking into account minutes on the pitch, Kightly massively out performs both his new team-mates in getting a shot away; if there is one thing Stoke fans lament, it is the total lack of shots on goal. If the former Wolves man can emulate that sort of form at the Britannia, he will quickly become a massive hit with the supporters.
Finally GOALS! Kightly scored with his first touch in a Stoke shirt and last season managed a goal every 398 minutes, almost twice as good when compared to Etherington who managed one in every 794 minutes. Pennant scored a grand total of zero, a man very much a provider, not a finisher.
So what does all that mean for the players and Stoke City. One thing is for sure Tony Pulis is a very stubborn man and if he doesn’t want Pennant to feature for any reason, then he won’t, it is as simple as that.
As for Etherington, there is a strong feeling amongst fans that he has lost his way, along with his confidence and best form. Rumours linking the former West Ham man with a move back down south have arisen over the summer and those who doubt him would be satisfied with the sale if a suitable replacement can be bought in.
So what about Kightly? Well with the prospect of adding goals to a side that scored the least amount of any team last year, a strong work ethic and the ability to swing in crosses for the forwards, who can argue that he isn’t worth a starting place come the 18th of August? But who should make way? Perhaps the managers mind is already made up, mine is.