Tough baptism for Stoke
16th August 2008
Well no one said it was going to be easy in the Prem and Stoke City had a taste of what we're going to have to put up with at the Reebok with a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Bolton Wanderers.
No one can also deny that Bolton deserved their three goals, but the Potters will think that the score line did not do justice to a side that had their own chances in front of goal. But it was that lack of ability to take those chances that cost Stoke any hope of coming away from the Reebok with at least a point.
Tony Pulis was forced to start with Stoke's top two talismans, Ricardo Fuller and Liam Lawrence, who were left on the bench after injuries had curtailed their involvement in the pre-season competitions. League debuts were given to Dave Kitson, Seyi Olofinjana and Thomas Sorensen but it proved to be Stoke's lack of experience at the back that was to be their downfall.
Stoke started brightly and were more than a match for Bolton, managed by former Potters' boss, Gary Megson. They had a couple of good chances from Mamady Sidibe who fired straight at keeper, Jaaskelainen and Dave Kitson. Rory Delap was also causing all sorts of problems in the Bolton area with his long throws, but on 34 minutes they were shaken by a cross from Steinsson that was way off it's intended target and ended going in off the top left hand corner of the post, giving Sorensen no chance. This unexpected setback caused heads to fall, which was surprising given Stoke's bounce back capabilities last season and for this they were to pay dearly. In a torrid fifteen minutes before half-time, Stoke conceded two more goals both from set-pieces, the first from Davies after he pushed his way through both Shawcross and Cort on 41 minutes and just five minutes later from their new signing, Elmander who headed past Sorensen into the corner of the net.
Nevertheless, with such a hill to climb, Stoke started the second half with purpose and after ten minutes Tony Pulis raised hopes both on and off the pitch by sacrificing Glenn Whelan for Liam Lawrence. Lawrence was followed ten minutes later by Ric Fuller, replacing a lack-lustre Big Mama up front. The two influential players transformed the Stoke attack, with Lawrence making his characteristic runs down the wing and Fuller causing problems in the penalty area along with Kitson. This pressure didn't pay off until the match was deep into added on time when Lawrence crossed the ball for Fuller to easily head home.
The Potters' first Premier League match highlighting the weaknesses we all knew, deep down, still existing in the squad. With just three of the new signings on the pitch - Olofinjana was the best of the new boys, Stoke were forced to start with Kitson and Sidibe up front. Sidibe never looked comfortable and we know all about his inability to score. Wilkinson and Shawcross at the back looked slightly star struck and never commanded the defence as they did last season. Skipper, Andy Griffin looked off the pace and some wayward kicks up the field didn't help.
On the positive side, we've got a proven Premier League defender in Abdoulaye Faye waiting in the wings (his debut was delayed by the need to renew his work permit and a slight injury), further defensive backup with Andrew Davies likely to sign from Southampton next week and Pulis promises that there could be a couple more signings before the transfer window shuts in just over two weeks.
Bolton: Jaaskelainen, Steinsson, Cahill, Andrew O'Brien, Samuel, Joey O'Brien, Nolan, Muamba, Taylor, Davies, Elmander (McCann 76)
Subs not used: Al Habsi, Hunt, Gardner, Mustapha, Shittu, Cohen.
Stoke City: Sorensen, Wilkinson (Dickinson 76), Cort, Shawcross, Griffin, Delap, Olofinjana, Whelan (Lawrence 56), Cresswell, Kitson, Sidibe (Fuller 65).
Subs not used: Simonsen, Pericard, Diao, Amdy Faye