Stoke have made astute signings despite budget cuts
Stoke City v Manchester City, 3pm
15 September ~ Last time Stoke played Manchester City, in late March, Peter Crouch managed to control the ball, swivel and loop it over Joe Hart from 35 yards, illuminating a rather dull league campaign for the Potters. The 2011-12 season will be remembered by fans for the Europa League run, which started as a bit of a laugh but ended in the last 32, rather than for anything that happened domestically. Last term Stoke were were dull, functional and almost totally reliant on set-pieces, scoring barely any goals from open play.
We were so poor to watch that even the famously rock-solid relationship between manager Tony Pulis and chairman Peter Coates was said to be under strain.
It began in the early close-season when Coates announced a massive expansion of the youth set-up. Pulis is famously reticent when it comes to playing youngsters – 28-year-old Andy Wilkinson is still a "kiddie" in interviews – and soon began sniping in the press that for all the background improvements "the front of house needs to be looked after too". Coates retorted by saying after last year's £22 million deadline-day splurge, after which two of the players signed – Cameron Jerome and Wilson Palacios – barely started, the manager would have to wheel and deal this year.
Whatever Coates meant by this, it is clear it wasn't "wheeling and dealing" in the conventional sense. Seven players arrived while not much transfer revenue was recouped. Most of the incoming players were midfielders which was odd because we have a lot and, frankly, never play much silky stuff through midfield anyway. We did need full-backs desperately, but they never materialised.
As always Pulis made some late deals. First, he persuaded Charlie Adam to swap one mid-table north-west club for another and in doing so got us a proper playmaker at last. Then he got Stephen Nzonzi for what looks like a bargain price and, finally, ended the Michael Owen saga by landing him too.
Time will tell whether the trio are Crouch-like successes or Eidur Gudjohnsen/Tuncay/Palacios style big-name Britannia misfits. Whatever you think about Owen's form, fitness and desire, he would have scored at least one of the two sitters missed by Jerome at Wigan.
The 2-2 draw at Wigan means we are still unbeaten and Stoke's record against City isn't bad if we forget about the 2011 Cup final. The Potters haven't lost at home against the "Big Four" for nearly two years and, if Crouch can't smash a wonder goal this time, then Owen might do the job instead. Andy Thorley
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