Mark Hughes’s team are too inconsistent this season
22 December ~ In the big old book of football cliches, somewhere towards the front is the notion that "a team like" Stoke will only beat "a team like" Chelsea if they get everything going in their favour. True or not, it certainly was the case at roughly this point last season. The Potters had played extremely well against today’s opponents and with the score at 2-2, things were deep in injury time with Eden Hazard on the break. Stephen Ireland lunged in, the ref waved play on. A few seconds later, the ball broke to Ossie Assaidi who promptly walloped it past Petr Cech from about 30 yards (Ireland was booked for the foul.)
Fast forward 12 months and that often mercurial concept of "luck" has rather deserted the Britannia Stadium this time around. Mark Hughes’s men have played well in the most part but sit below halfway with seven defeats – including three at home to Villa, Leicester and Burnley.
On the flip side is the fact that of the five wins that have been accrued, two have come on the road at Manchester City and Spurs, while the home victory against Arsenal was a lot more comfortable than the 3-2 scoreline suggests. Thus far, if we are looking to sum up the season of Stoke City in one word then it could only be "inconsistent”. Yet to register back-to-back wins, the campaign has been one of frustration and a raft of injuries, but interspersed with some fine football.
These days, with the spending of the 2008-12 era largely over, Hughes has had to operate pretty shrewdly. He's done that, and Victor Moses was excellent before his own injury a month or so back, while the £500,000 that the manager reckons Bojan cost (it was reported as £3 million) is nothing short of a master stroke.
Bojan announced himself to the Premier League with his sublime run and goal at White Hart Lane. He had – after a slow start to the campaign – done the same to his own fans the week before in Stoke's game at home to West Ham. For 65 minutes he controlled the match single-handed and his side were 2-0 up and cruising, before conceding two ridiculous goals. It was Stoke’s season in microcosm. Bad luck was bemoaned after that one too, but a good side don't draw games when they are 2-0 up and completely on top with 25 minutes to go, and a good side keep more than two clean sheets by Christmas.
As it is, Stoke City are where they have been for much of Hughes’s tenure – nearly very good. Last season it took the signing of Peter Odemwingie to galvanise things in January and after winning seven and drawing four of the last 14 games a very creditable ninth-place finish was secured. Hopefully history repeats itself, starting tonight. With a bit of luck, of course. Andy Thorley