Stoke Soapbox: blinded by the truth


STOKE CITY: AN APOLOGY

In common with most parts of the media, and an overwhelming majority of neutral onlookers other blinkered SAFC supporters, Salut! Sunderland may have gained or given the impression that Stoke’s tactics on Saturday were not only ugly but bordered on thuggery of a kind that Mr Lee Probert ought to have noticed and punished. It has now been drawn to our attention that far from being a bunch of ruffians whose priority is to crowd, obstruct, push and restrain the opposing goalkeeper at set pieces, they are standard-bearers for football’s Corinthian spirit and the aesthetic joys of the sport at its best. Sunderland fans, in particular, reek of sour grapes and are just jealous because Rory Delap never put in a menacing long throw in his time at their club. We therefore apologise unreservedly to Mr Tony Pulis and the players, staff and supporters of Stoke City.

Now let Pete Sixsmith embrace the mood of contrition …

The New Testament, I think, says: “Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye and then thou shall see clearly to caste out the mote from thy brother’s eye.” That just about sums up my more reasoned reaction to my immediate reaction to Saturday’s disaster at the Britannia Stadium.

As we trooped out from the stand behind the goal and back to the coach we were greeted by grinning Stoke fans, who probably realised that they had nicked a win that was due more to our defensive frailties than to their slide rule football.

My texts to M Salut were full of the frustration that the 2,000 Mackems felt after seeing another feeble defensive display from our team.

It shouldn’t have been like that. Up until the 80th.minute, we had dealt with the succession of long throws, corners and high balls that Stoke had thrown at us. It wasn’t easy, but Mensah and Bramble had covered Gordon reasonably well and it looked like we would hang on for a third successive away win.

But, Pulis outwitted Bruce by making a timely substitution. Off came Wilkinson, on went an attacker in Walters and two up front became three. We were inactive, despite Muntari struggling for fitness as the game entered its final phase; the introduction of Malbranque or Zenden for the Ghanaian might have countered the pressure we ultimately faced and allowed us to attack a reduced Stoke defence.

Two good balls from Pennant found our defence lacking the courage and the intelligence to deal with them. Carew knocked one over the line with his hand, and we failed to pick Huth up for the winner in the final minute. Game over, Stoke scored one more goal than us and had I been a Stoke fan, I would have been grinning at the visiting fans.

Twenty four hours later, it still rankles that we were beaten. Good sides close games down and keep the ball. They don’t give away stupid free kicks as Muntari and Richardson did. They do attack the ball in their own area as Bramble , Mensah, Ferdinand and, most importantly, Gordon didn’t.

It’s clear that we are a decent side. We played some neat and tidy football at times, with quick movement and neat passing resulting in two well taken goals. Sessegnon looked a useful acquisition, Muntari rarely played a bad ball and Richardson and Gyan took their goals well.

But decent will not transfer itself into good unless we stop throwing away leads away from home. We did it at Wolves, we did it at Liverpool, we did it at Wigan and now we have done it at Stoke. All of those teams are below us in the league and had we held out, we would have had enough extra points to put us in a Champions League place.

I realise I am leaving myself open to justified ridicule with that statement, but we need to ask why we can’t do it. Is it mental strength? On a number of occasions this season, I have doubted our mental toughness. It dissipated completely at Newcastle and it seems that in any game in Staffordshire it disappears in the final 10 minutes.

Lee Probert and his assistants didn’t help us on Saturday. Carew was clearly offside for the opener and he handled for the second. Both should have been spotted and weren’t but on both occasions we did not mark him and allowed a limited player to score twice. Not good enough.

The big Norwegian was offside, there may have been a push on the keeper and there might also have been a handball, but otherwise there was nothing for Sunderland to complain about. – from the match report by Martin Spinks at This is Staffordshire

Having taking the beam from my eye, let’s look at the mote in our red and white brother’s eye. I imagine that Pulis realised that our defence was uncomfortable with the ball howitzered in at them and he played to his team’s strengths. I still maintain that is horrible football and I won’t apologise for that. Horses for courses maybe, but Stoke win zero points for artistic impression – not that their fans will give a hoot about that.

Of the Sunderland old boys, Whitehead had a good one, working hard throughout and tracking back when Sessegnon and Gyan ran at them. Delap threw the ball a long way, Higginbotham looks like a carbon copy of Bardsley, Tommy Sorenson applauded the fans after his half time warm up and Danny Collins remained on the bench.

Kenwyne however, had a shocker and the Stoke fans were giving him a rough ride, particularly towards the end. It doesn’t look like a match made in heaven and Carew is much more a Stoke player: big, strong and physical and not afraid to get in the face of opponents. Size apart, that’s not Kenwyne.

A bitterly disappointing end to a day that had started so well, temporarily lifted as Arsenal scored for fun and then plunged back into gloom as the Mags levelled just before the end. I can’t see us coming back from four down, can you?

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Salut! Sunderland is written, illustrated and edited by - and principally for - supporters of Sunderland AFC. The site aims to be sufficiently literate and entertaining to appeal to people who do not follow SAFC but enjoy good football writing.

12 Responses to “Stoke Soapbox: blinded by the truth” Subscribe

  1. Mark Eltringham February 7, 2011 at 9:54 am #

    I agree on the whole with Pete’s summing up of the game. Except I actually do care about the way we play. I don’t like it. The win is great, but I’d love us to actually play a bit more.

    But on the other hand the intro is just a load of shit. I’m sorry. But that is all there is to it.

    The problem is that not only did the reporting media make no mention of this ‘thuggery’ neither did the commentators, either during the game or afterwards. The reason is simeple. Because it never happened. Standing on the goalie at set pieces? For God’s sake. It’s basic stuff, unless you can tell me Steve Bruce allows opposition goalies a free run at the ball. I’ve asked repeatedly for examples of this thuggery and all you’ve suggested is:

    – Rory Delap should take throw ins quicker.
    – Our goalie can’t catch the ball.

    It would be pathetic except sometimes we get refereed on the basis of this kind of rubbish. The tragic thing is that so too does Lee Cattermole so you lot should know better. Didn’t het get sent off earlier this season solely on the basis of the name on his shirt?

    My last say.

  2. Mark Eltringham February 7, 2011 at 10:05 am #

    Except for this. A realistic summing up from a Stoke fan.

    http://chiefdelilah.wordpress.com/2011/02/07/the-top-ten-conclusions-from-stoke-city-3-2-sunderland-05-02-11/

  3. salutsunderland February 7, 2011 at 10:09 am #

    Your last-but-one say, Mark, and all your says have been welcome as I have stated on another thread, prompted me to try a roadside repair on the old sense of humour breakdown.

    And yes, that link of yours takes us to a good piece even though I’d quarrel, as you’d expect, with some of it. From five minutes after the final whistle, Salut! Sunderland has been blaming our own failings more than anything else for the defeat.

  4. ChrisStokie February 7, 2011 at 11:22 am #

    Regarding referees decisions I seem to remember the ref at the Stadium of Light thinking it was volley ball for a few moments as cattermole handled it twice in 10 seconds, to stop the ball from going over the line. These poor decisions seem to even themselves out over a season.

  5. salutsunderland February 7, 2011 at 2:42 pm #

    or, for another Stoke view, consider is – also from This is Staffordshire:

    “Goals in the last minute are fantastic for creating amnesia but nevertheless it was great to get three points. I am sure that there would have been a vast difference in the moods of the Stoke and Sunderland fans returning home on Saturday.
    I can’t help wondering how the goals would have been reported had Stoke been Sunderland and vice versa. I believe that there were over ten passes made in scoring the first goal and in missing his shot it did distract defenders but Richardson was not and took full advantage of the move. Had Fuller scored scored the goal Gyan did would it have been hailed a soft goal. Huth should have done better in the circumstances but Gyan was typical Fuller in his style as he pestered and eventually robbed Huth and put the ball away. The delivery by Pennant on the day was superb and his crosses for the Stoke goals would have troubled any defence and I agree luck has a way of balancing out over the season as far as decisions that should have gone against us.
    That is what we are! We are a team that play percentage football ie. get the ball in the six yard box often enough and we will inevitably get chances and over a season enough chances to secure enough points to avoid relegation. What is it like to watch? Awful!”

    mel, Stone

  6. Alec February 8, 2011 at 3:41 am #

    Stoke players are not thugs, and our football isn’t thuggish. I expect this kind of lying from Arsenal supporters but I thought you northerners were straight arrows? Bad, bad losers look stupid, and weak.

  7. Mark Eltringham February 8, 2011 at 9:03 am #

    Oh. and one more (one more) thing. Your manager agrees with me. Also more here about the ambivalent relationship Stoke fans have with out manager and his style of play.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2011/feb/07/stoke-city-sunderland-premier-league

  8. salutsunderland February 8, 2011 at 9:34 am #

    Give or take one or two lapses in proportion and taste on both sides of argument, on which I have taken modest action, this has been an acceptably robust debate. As I have pointed out, it has been acknowledged from the outset at this site (and by Bruce) that defensive frailties were predominantly responsible for the loss of three points that we ought to have sewn up. It is not an attack on Mark or any other Stoke fan to question the team’s tactics. There has been plenty of sympathy on these pages for Stoke City – you need only look back to how we covered the Shawcross-Ramsey incident or, indeed, the Cattermole handball – but we are entitled to take the view we do of what happened on Saturday. Two of the Stoke goals were offside, as everyone more or less now accepts, but it doesn’t end with that misfortune. It is simply my honest opinion that Gordon’s own culpability was aggravated by borderline thuggishness: the crowding, obstruction, pushing and rushing of the keeper at every set piece. He was entitled to protection from the referee and did not get it (as Bruce also believes). And Stoke fans are entitled to hope, as some do, that their team moves forward from this deeply ugly form of play that, with sterner refereeing, would bring few rewards.

  9. Alec February 8, 2011 at 10:51 am #

    Hello Salut Sunderland:

    I’ve left three posts on this blog, two on the ‘Blemishes’ thread and one on this.

    The ‘Blemishes’ posts are nowhere to be seen, I don’t think they were ever published; the post on this thread has ben hacked down to a two-sentence ‘yah-boo’. I wouldn’t mind so much had the ‘Blemishes’ pieces not been gems of Gibbonesque paradox and wit and the original note I sent in for this thread not been a small masterpiece of near-Wildean sparkle.

    Next time you take ‘modest action’ you should put a note beside the affected post – something like this for me: ‘This post has been edited: its combination of scalpel-sharp forensic argument and dazzling erudition was thought to be too intimidating for our readership’.

    As a matter of interest, do you think Gordon is a better goalie than Sorenson? I don’t.

  10. salutsunderland February 8, 2011 at 12:19 pm #

    Sorry Alec but I can find no trace of the missing two posts, even after ploughing through what was trapped by the spam filter. I explained the editing in my email to you.
    The Gordon v Sorensen question is tough one. At his best, which he has been quite a lot this season, Gordon is one of the best around. He has weaknesses, including inconsistency of command in the six-yard box, but so do all keepers. I was a great fan of Tommy’s. His shot-stopping ability is probably equal to Craig’s, but his howler rate may be higher. I’ll stick with Gordon but it’s a close call.

  11. salutsunderland February 8, 2011 at 1:20 pm #

    ps to Alec:

    I may have cracked it, the problem of your missing posts, I mean, not the site’s chocolate veneer.

    I assume they were the ones that came anonymously via the oversized contact box, which I have just installed and already wish I hadn’t, as opposed to this comments field. My editing renders on comment redundant, but I will belatedly post the other one if you confirm authorship (chocolate being the clue).

  12. Alec February 8, 2011 at 3:04 pm #

    Yes, if you were chocolate …
    HT to Graeme Souness (did you know that Celtic fans wanted Parkhead to be exorcised after Souness’s Blackburn played there in the UEFA?)

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