A Week In Red, White & Purple
September 22nd, 2018 4:30pm. We reach my dad’s car in one of the industrial car parks outside the Bet365, having opted to leave on 70 mins whilst Stoke trailed Blackburn by 3 goals. I check my phone, it’s 3-2. We pull away from the ground, messages fly in, we’re pushing for a winner, Crouch misses a sitter, PENALTY. This feels surreal. Then Saido misses – and we’re Stoke again. What a strange end to an awful game.
Fast forward to Wednesday night, where a make-shift Stoke side is 3-0 down to Nottingham Forest. Rowett Out picks up pace on my Twitter feed, and people are remarkably doom and gloom.
Then, Afobe scores. At 3-1 it should’ve been a consolation, yet with 20 mins there’s a weird sense of hope that begins to emerge. Berahino scores. 3-2. Netflix is paused, Twitter’s being furiously refreshed. We can do this. Forest go down to ten. Chance after chance pours through Stoke twitter, you feel like we’re actually going to do it this time. Again, we didn’t do it on the day – poor Saido missed a golden chance to make it 3-3 for a second consecutive game.
Now, we round off a chaotic seven days at Rotherham. Stoke dominate the first half, no way is the registered charity founded in 1863 giving them an inch today. Half time, 0-0 but with some excellent chances.
Second half, early penalty against the run of play. Goal. Sucker punch. Play restarts, Rotherham push again. Corner. Goal. 2-0 Rotherham. Game o….n. Game on.
After the last few weeks, tonight began to feel different. We’ve seen this season that Stoke can score goals and push teams to the very end, so there’s a change in mindset as a Stoke fan. You’re not giving up with half hour to go – you’re bracing yourself for the comeback.
This time, we bloody do it too. Bojan scores to make it 2-2 and bedlam ensues in living rooms across the country. It isn’t a win, but it feels like one.
“Bring Back Lambert”
There is a lot of negativity surrounding Stoke at the moment. People are questioning Gary Rowett more and more with each growing week. Some have clamoured for a new manager this last fortnight – namely Allardyce, McCarthy and a return for Paul Lambert. All these managers have one thing in common – they can organise a defence.
We’re used to having a solid defence – it’s been ingrained into us from the Tony Pulis days. Paul Lambert’s return to that approach from February to May won plaudits amongst some of the fanbase. His tactics saw us concede 18 goals in the last 15 games, an improvement on 50 from the previous 23 games.
It was the Premier League. It served a purpose, to stave off relegation against better sides. It was football fans could believe in, it was everyone giving everything. It was 2 wins in 4 months, and 11 goals in 15 games. It was boring.
We don’t have a solid defence anymore, so the alarm bells naturally ring. Few could’ve foreseen the Premier League back four spiraling to the depths that are currently on display, Rowett himself admits he didn’t, and we’re stuck with these issues until January at the earliest.
However, we have an attack. An attack that scores goals, an attack that tries it’s damndest to paper over the cracks of a poor defence – in the same way that our defence would try to do the same for our misfiring attack last season. But you know what? Goals are fun. Way more fun than clean sheets.
Scoring is the hardest thing to do in football, yet Stoke City are doing it. We, Stoke City, are scoring goals. This is a strange feeling. It’s always felt like our achilles heel – we’ve not been a scoring team for years, let alone consistent scorers. Now, we’re scoring early goals. We’re scoring late goals. We’re pushing teams from the start and we’re pushing teams to the end. In the midst of our defensive woes, I really worry that we’re not making a big enough deal of this.
Football is about creating memories. Few fans brag about a 0-0 or a scrappy 1-0 game where few chances were created. They want goals. They go to a match with the hope that they get to celebrate a meaningful goal for their club. For the first time in a long while, Stoke City are giving fans those moments on a weekly basis.
Going back to last season, Hughes & Lambert’s Stoke sides scored 40 goals in 41 games across all competitions last season. This saw Stoke averaging just over 1 goal a game, a figure saved largely by the 4 goal haul against Rochdale back in August 2017. It was dire stuff, and the “highlights” were so sparse that the club didn’t even release a Season Review DVD for the campaign.
Who could blame them, though? Going back to Mark Hughes’ fixtures last season do you remember the hard fought 0-0 against Southampton with 10 men in a midweek match, where we barely looked like scoring but celebrated the point like a win? I mean, do you really remember it? I can’t.
Do you remember the 1-0 win and away performance at Watford? Do you remember the 1-1 draw away to Huddersfield on Boxing Day?
Even when Lambert came in, some of our best performances led to 1-1 draws against Burnley, Leicester and Brighton – the latter of which was only memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Now, following relegation, Rowett’s Stoke side have scored in every single match this season. We’ve hit 18 goals in 12 games so far this season, scoring 2 goals in a single game 7 times.
6 of these goals have come in the last week, during games where we could have arguably been dead and buried. Where historically heads would drop, “game over” would be uttered, and defeat would be accepted.
Yet Stoke City are now fighting to the end, scoring goals to push a game to its very limit and claw points from the jaws of defeat. Sometimes it ends in agony, sometimes ecstasy. This is what we watch football for. The sheer entertainment, the unpredictability, the goals. THE GOALS.
Will you remember us flying out of the blocks for the 2-2 at Hillsborough? Quite possibly. The last 10 minutes of madness at home in the 3-2 defeat against Blackburn? Ever likely. Bojan’s header tonight? It’s already tattooed on your back.
Yes, we only have 3 wins in 12 games this season. Yes, we lost to Blackburn and Nottingham Forest. Yes, we only drew to Rotherham tonight, but those were games where you felt a rollercoaster of emotions that have been missing from Stoke City of late.
You can argue that relegation has benefited us in this sense, and we’re playing weaker opposition – but when you’re sat at the ground watching the match do you actually care? Would you take a 0-0 in the Premier League over a 2-2 in the Championship? Power to you if that’s the case, but I wouldn’t.
Get Used To It
It’s been a bizarre week of football for Stoke, with giddy highs being accompanied with alarming lows. Stoke have a glaring issue with the defence, that is impacting results. It won’t be a quick fix, either.
The defence will be a huge rebuild. We’re looking at a new starting back four, as well as some actual depth in positions. It will take another 2-3 windows to turn this squad into one capable of promotion, but I have faith in Gary Rowett that he can do it with the right backing.
We’re going to suffer with goals conceded between now and January at the earliest with the current side, and we’re unlikely to get promoted this season. We will concede goals but, more importantly, we will score them too.
For now, just embrace the chaos.