Stoke City got their first win five games yesterday at the bet365 Stadium, in a less than inspiring 2-0 victory over Watford. Goals from Ryan Shawcross and Peter Crouch saw Stoke rise to 11th in the league, rising above the visitors and seemingly out of trouble for now.
The result was brilliant. In a game where we desperately needed a win, we got it, so it’s hard to complain. Right? However the performance was one we have shown in past games, sub-standard at times with little glimpses of promise. Add to that that Watford are in very poor form at the moment and were pretty poor on the night, it still remains to be seen whether this result is a success in the long-term.
Before the game, things were looking grim in the Potteries. Without a win in five, a win was very much needed, and as the team news came in, not many were filled with confidence.
Bojan and Shaqiri were once again overlooked, but Marko Arnautovic made his return from suspension, playing in a less familiar role behind the strikers. Jon Walters and Peter Crouch led the line, bringing experience to our front line which in the end was needed.
Hughes team selection will always be a mystery to some, but with all the focus on the game in hand, the players delivered, regardless of how hard we made it.
The first half didn’t bring about much entertainment, but Stoke definitely looked threatening going forward. We had a great chance to take the lead early on, as a mistake in the Watford defence saw Arnautovic free down the left. Instead of shooting which seemed the likely option, the Austrian looked to square the ball to Walters, who would have found the net if it was not for the toe of Britos who got in the way just in time.
Watford showed glimpses of what their fans probably expect from them recently, with some nice work around the Stoke box, but they lacked any end product, and in stoppage time of the first half they were made to pay.
Direct off a corner (yes, we scored from a set-piece), Ryan Shawcross was able to volley the ball past Gomes in the Watford goal at his near post to give Stoke the lead. A superb ball from Charlie Adam picked out our captain, thanks to some poor defending from Watford, for his first goal of the season. He then proceeded to have a cheeky dig at his doubters of late, putting his hands behind his ears in celebration.
Into the second half and Watford came out firing. Doucoure forced a great save out of Lee Grant, as he fired an effort from inside the box towards the top corner, but Grant was able to great a good strong hand to the ball to prevent the equaliser.
Watford would rue missing that chance as just three minutes Stoke scored a second, putting the game to bed. Again Charlie Adam was the provider, as he whipped in a dangerous ball into the box, which Prodl would misjudge, and Peter Crouch was right behind to convert, with the ball coming off his knee rather than his foot. Not the most attractive goal you will ever see, but it gave us much needed breathing room.
Crouch could have gotten his third goal in just two appearances later on in the game, as substitute Afellay whipped a brillaint ball into the head of the big man, but he misjudged his header, which fortunately fell to Walters three yards out, but his effort was somehow right at Gomes.
Walters nearly made up for his mistake late into the game, as he was set free down the rigth, but his effort was wonderfully saved by Gomes.
That would finish what was a pretty dull 90 minutes of football. The three minutes is what mattered, but the performance was definitely not up to standard. We were lucky that Watford are in poor form themselves, as they offered no real threat to us all night.
This was a make or break game for Hughes, as if we’d have lost, he’d have been under serious pressure. Thankfully, we came away with the win, but is this just paper over the cracks?
The performance was not up to standard, I’m sure most can agree with that, and it’s been that way for some time now. 2016 wasn’t the best year for the club, and with recent results and team selections, many fans are growing impatient with Hughes.
It’s clear something needs to change, whether that be ditching the three back formation, bringing in our best players in Bojan and Shaqiri that for some reason are rotting on the bench, or bringing in a new manager. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion on what the club and Hughes should do, but if we want to keep up with the teams around us, changes need to be made.