It may turn out to be the night the Mark Hughes era ended. A 5-1 routing at the national stadium, by a Tottenham side who were revelling in their fourth consecutive four-goal tonking of the Potters. ‘Hughes Out’ chants in the stadium, players admitting to have ‘given up’, a teenager’s confidence shot to pieces in his second professional game, and targeted chants of ‘You’re not fit to wear the shirt’ at Stoke-on-Trent station.
The result was unsurprising, but once again it was the manner of Stoke’s collapse that fanned the flames of outrage in North London and North Staffordshire. After Spurs’ fortunate opener off Shawcross, Stoke wilted. For all their quality, Tottenham have been on something of a wobble and posed little serious threat until their opener. In such circumstances, teams need to show what they’re made of, and Stoke, it appears, aren’t made of much. This was a surrender.
As the ball pinged around Son, Eriksen, Kane and Alli, everyone associated with Stoke City looked like they’d rather be somewhere else. Some fans left at 3-0, others 4-0 or 5-0. Some stayed until the end, spitting venom and letting the few players who did look in their direction at full time know what they made of this latest drossfest.
Time has to be up now for Mark Hughes. The list of mistakes is too long, the goals against are too many, the decline is too obvious and all sparks of inspiration have deserted the Welshman. Facing one of the finest attacking outfits in the league, he returned to a formation that has been shown time and time again to be simply unworkable for Stoke City. After more rigidity against Swansea with a back four, what exactly prompted him to revert back to a back three is anyone’s guess.
It is remarkable how Stoke can have 7 (Zouma, Shawcross, Wimmer, Pieters, Edwards, Fletcher, Allen) defensively-minded players in a starting line up (excluding goalkeeper) and still look so easy to walk through. We know that we don’t have any full backs at the club, yet neverthless, Hughes persists with it. We know that those centre-halves are not comfortable in that system, but Hughes persists with it. We know that midfield pairing is simply not up to the job, but Hughes persists with it.
The players, of course, have to take responsibility for their surrender too. You’d be hard pressed to find an occassion in Stoke’s Premier League years where the men in red and white showed so little professional pride. At least actual headless chickens would have run more. There is no invention or sense that we can create things if Xherdan Shaqiri isn’t on his game. Currently, our hopes of results rest on his shoulders.
Fans are justifiably angry, not because of this game, but this is the just the latest uninspiring, tactically inept display from The Potters. Fans are sick of it. In two years we’ve gone from tearing Man City, Man United and Everton to ribbons, to nervously looking over our shoulders and trying to work out if there are three teams worse than us.
And are there? Swansea’s hopeless showing at the bet365 would surely put them in that category. However, Newcastle and Palace deservedly beat Stoke, West Ham are resurgent, Brighton and Huddersfield have actual tactics and West Brom could go either way.
We’ve conceded the most goals in the league despite spending £24m on two defenders and getting Kurt Zouma in on loan. Going forward, things are even more desparate. £12m Berahino looks completely spent when he does play, something that is happening a lot less frequently. Jese doesn’t have a future at Stoke. Choupo-Moting, for all his useful goals, is about as close to an Arnautovic replacement as I am.
And that’s without mentioning the players no longer at the club. £18m man Imbula at Toulouse, the great messiah Bojan at Alaves, Muniesa at Girona. Yesterday, Arnautovic looked to have kick started his London Stadium career the week before he’s due back at his former stomping ground. Bony scored again, Joselu netted and even Begovic saved a bloody penalty. The ghosts of Christmas past are plentiful this December. All we need now is N’Zonzi to return to England and dominate Fletcher and Allen with his eyes closed.
There have been too many recruitment failures, too many humblings, too many listless performances, too many defensive howlers, too many regressive moves, too many excuses.
The definition of insanity is doing something again and again but expecting different results.
Time to go Sparky, before it’s too late.