A fairly dull and uninspiring game between two teams who should avoid any brushes with the relegation dogfight this season. Newcastle eventually edged the game with a injury time winner.
This game was never likely to figure highly among the purist’s must watch games of the season but it provides another example of how teams can adapt and seek to achieve their goals through alternative methods from the often preached mantra of short passing games.
Despite the demands of Europa League football, Pardew has been reshuffling his squad to maintain freshness. Just four of the starting eleven from the away draw against Anzhi started the game. Elliot, Yanga-Mbiwa, Cabaye and Sissoko played in both games.
This was the obligatory 4-2-3-1 from Pardew with Cabaye and Tiote screening the defence.
Tony Pulis made one change following the home defeat to West Ham with Kightly dropping out and being replaced by Geoff Cameron. The side reshuffled from a 4-4-2 to a more solid, defensive minded 4-5-1. Jonathan Walters was tasked with supporting Peter Crouch in attack.
Much of the game was, from a tactical perspective, forgettable.
Neither side really enjoys being the more proactive during a game but being the home side, the onus was focused on Newcastle. With 56% possession and 14 attempts at goal, they were the more positive side against a Stoke team lacking confidence on their travels but there was a lack of quality too often from both sides.
Stoke started the game in brighter fashion with a few attacks if not really offering anything particularly threatening. As Newcastle grew into the game, they created by their best chances by taking advantage of Stoke’s poor play. Twice in the opening half Newcastle pressed their opponents and created decent opportunities for themselves. Firstly, Tiote stole possession and stormed forward but his chip went beyond Cisse. Secondly, Gouffran had an attempt wide again following a Stoke player being dispossessed.
A generally lacklustre half came to a conclusion with neither side offering any product in the final third of the pitch. From the limited shots at goal, only three shots between both sides had struck the target.
Newcastle tried to take the initiative again in the second half but lacked the guile to break down a well organised Stoke defence. Despite having 14 attempts at goal during the game, only three were from inside the penalty area, a testament to how quickly Stoke manage to drop back into position and close down space. Too often Newcastle would shoot from distance which is also partly their concern too. They were too quick to force the issue rather than be more patient.
Part of the problem which Stoke faced in this game, as they do in all their games, is their style of play. By favouring a direct game and searching out their strikers early, it creates problems when their defenders have the ball and are quickly closed down. Simply, there is limited, if any, options available for them to pass to:-
The graphic displays the most frequent pass combination between two Stoke City players on the pitch. The long kick from Begovic to Crouch.
It begs the question of at what point will Stoke advance under Pulis? Should they consider the development of Stoke City towards a more passing orientated game? Or is the present approach entirely suitable for the club?
Taking aside the aesthetics issue, is Pulis gaining the best from the collection of players he has assembled?
The side average just over 42% possession per game managing just nine shots at their opponent’s goal per game. It’s a difficult problem to rectify. With one of the lowest amounts of average possession per game in the Premiership, Stoke also have one of the lowest shots per game ratio. It’s a thankless task being a Stoke striker. You have little meaningful possession and you spend the majority of the game closing down your opponents. If you do get an opportunity, are you at the optimum condition to take advantage?
The goal from Jonathan Walters ended a run of 256 minutes within a Premier League for Stoke. For all of their defensive solidity and structure, they score far too few goals. Only Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester Utd have conceded fewer goals than Stoke City this season but only Norwich have scored fewer.
The goal arose from a quick counter attack. A cross by Debuchy evaded everyone in the penalty area and the ball was cleared up field. Both Walters and Debuchy had roughly the same starting position yet Walters entered the penalty area, where he was tripped by Tiote, well ahead of the Frenchman. It highlights a problem are for Newcastle, the reliance upon width from the full backs.
As with many sides using the 4-2-3-1, there is a tendency for the wingers to be inverted and for width to be provided by the full backs. If the full backs don’t get forward as much, play can become clogged in the central area as often happened during this game.
Both goals which Stoke conceded were initiated by their own errors. Firstly Whelan needlessly conceded possession in his own half, freeing Sissoko to run directly at goal. Whelan, seeking to make amends fro his error, fouled the attacking midfielder just outside the penalty area. Cabaye scored from the resultant free kick again showcasing his dead ball accuracy and the goalscoring threat which he brings to the side.
The winning goal was a further error. A Newcastle attack in stoppage time had temporarily halted just outside the Stoke penalty area. If Stoke mark their opponents, it would be difficult for Newcastle to breach their defence yet Wilson inadvertently attempted to play offside when a low pass was aimed towards Cisse enabling the striker to turn and score the winner. A rash decision by the defender that cost his side a share of the points.
Newcastle have now won their last three home games after coming from behind. What makes this so surprising is that under Pardew’s leadership, they had never once recovered to win a game after trailing. 12 points from a possible 18 has lifted them up the table and with January signings settling in well, Newcastle should be comfortably safe for the remainder of the season. With another couple of wins, Pardew may even be able to divert his attention fully toward the Europa League.
Are Stoke safe from relegation? It may sound silly but they have collected five points in their last ten league games. Despite being placed in 11th position, it’s a run of form which must be halted quickly. As good as their defence is, they simply don’t score enough goals. Their form in the first half of the season should be sufficient but the manner in which they have dropped off lately should have the attention of Pulis.