Helguson stuns Stoke as woeful form continues
The Britannia Stadium
19th November 2011
Stoke`s woeful form continued with defeat at home to QPR yesterday.
The Potters have now picked up just 4 points from 8 matches, and after an encouraging start to the premier league, are now treading in dangerous waters after this latest defeat.
Heidur Helguson`s fine header cancelled out Jon Walters well taken opener, and the Icelander was again on hand to extend his side`s lead in the second half after Luke Young had put the hoops 2-1 up just before the break.
Stoke looked a shadow of their former selves, as QPR`s high pressure gameplan payed off perfectly, with Jermaine Pennant and Matthew Etherington being marked out of the game and Helguson clearing Delap`s throw ins with ease.
Meanwhile, former Arsenal winger Alain Traore, terrorised Wilkinson throughout, and despite the return of Huth and Shawcross in the centre, the Potters` defence struggled.
Two clear cut penalties were waved away by the referee Mike Jones, and late chances from Whelan and Whitehead were squandered, but it was the hoops who went home with the points, leaving the Potters hovering above the relegation zone.
Tony Pulis did make changes to the starting line up after humiliating defeat at Bolton, with Sorenson coming in for Asmir Begovic, and Matty Etherington returning to the starting line up.
Stoke made a promising start, and whilst it was far from fluent football, the visitors were looking shaken after early crosses from Etherington and Pennant had them on the back foot.
And it wasn`t long before the Potters made the breakthrough, as Dean Whitehead won the ball in the centre of midfield and found Crouch, who put through a perfectly weighted pass for Walters, who finished brilliantly with a stunning first time strike.
The first opening for the visitors came through Faurlin, as the Italian found room on the edge of the area but his low driven effort was hit straight at Thomas Sorenson.
But it was Stoke who were looking more threatening, and arguably the turning point of the match was to come next as Crouch squandered a fantastic chance to double City`s lead.
The striker latched onto a ball over the top, and with just the goalkeeper to beat, his first effort was saved by Kenny, but he really should`ve buried the opportunity at the second attempt as he scuffed the ball across the area when it seemed easier to score.
Stoke were to rue that miss, as only a few minutes later the visitors levelled.
Armand Traore, who`s pace and power was troubling Wilkinson, managed to keep the ball in play and hit a pinpoint cross towards Heidur Helguson, who headed his team level with a typically clinical finish.
Higginbotham probably should`ve been tighter to the Icelandic hitman, but Sorenson could do nothing but watch as Helguson`s bullet header nestled into the top corner.
Stoke were in shellshock, and whilst the visitors were growing confident, the Potters were beginning to lose every second ball as QPR searched for another goal.
However, Robert Huth headed over from a Pennant corner, and a strong Matthew Etherington run did at least lift the fans, as the winger drove at the QPR defence before firing wide from the edge of the area.
But with Joey Barton pulling the strings in midfield, QPR were looking far more assured on the ball, and their quality told just before the break.
A good piece of play found Jamie Mackie on the right hand side, and the Scot squared the ball for the onrushing Luke Young, who made no mistake in slotting the ball beyond Sorenson and into the roof of the net.
City went into the break knowing if they could just get one goal, a win would still be possible.
The fatal blow was struck early on in the second half though, as Barton`s teasing cross found Helguson who guided the ball home from six yards out.
Stoke were still struggling to get a foothold in the game, and if anything, it seemed more likely that QPR would go onto extend their lead.
The size of the pitch was arguably not helping, as the hoops` high pressure football hounded out Stoke`s wingers.
Stoke`s only real threat was from set pieces, and after a succession of throw ins and set pieces which failed to trouble QPR, the pressure finally told as Shawcross was on hand to nod home a point-blank header which gave the Potters a lifeline.
Robert Huth managed to guide a Matthew Etherington corner across the goal, and the skipper got in front of Paddy Kenny to reduce the deficit.
As soon as the goal went in, Pulis brought on Kenwyne Jones for Peter Crouch, and fans favourite Ricardo Fuller was introduced just moments later in the place of Jermaine Pennant, as Stoke looked set to bombard the QPR goal.
As Stoke pushed Neil Warnock's side backwards, the referee wasn`t really doing himself any favours, as QPR ran down the clock by winning a number of soft fouls.
Glenn Whelan was then brought onto add a more guile in the middle of the park, and he nearly made an immediate impact as he controlled the ball on his chest before hitting a volley inside the area, which just evaded the top corner.
Throws ins were now desperately being hurled into the visitors box, but it was met with the same outcome time and time again, as Helguson leaped in the penalty area to clear the ball.
Fuller then found himself in the left hand side of the area, but his cross was intercepted by Anton Ferdinand.
A massive call for a penalty was then turned down as Robert Huth looked to have been blatantly pulled down in the 6 yard box as he attempted to turn and shoot.
But the QPR defence remained resolute, with former Potters old boy Clint Hill personifying a brave defensive effort from the West Londoners in the final 5 minutes of injury time.
With time running out , Glenn Whelan really should`ve hit the target from 20 yards out, but his poor effort summed City`s display up.
And when it seemed like there was no time left for the Potters to mount another attack, there was one last Rory Delap throw in, and whilst all three sides of the Stoke support rose in anticipation, Kenwyne Jones` resulting header flew over the bar and the referee blew his whistle to thousands of groans from the home crowd.
There`s probably a number of reasons, but I can`t help thinking it`s something what the opposition are doing right, rather than what we are doing wrong.
Granted, Stoke have always lacked creativity in the middle of the park, or even someone who can get a hold of the ball and calm things down.
But, it`s never affected us at home, until now. Our biggest threats are extremely clear, our wingers. Shut them out, and half the job is done, put 2 or 3 men on Etherington and Pennant and they`re completely ineffectual to be honest.
Furthermore, there`s nothing which our centre midfielders can do to hurt teams, they`re purely their to stop teams hurting ourselves.
In the last two home games against Newcastle and QPR, the visitors have hounded out our wingers, squeezed the play, and stopped us being effective.
The only thing we could do, was launch it up to Peter Crouch in the hope he could somehow hold of 4 or 5 men and win the ball for someone else to pick up and create a chance from.
Normally, we at least have a bit of time on the ball to build from the back, but QPR's pressure just didn't allow us any time to settle or build momentum, and that is just the perfect way to play Stoke.
Huge credit must go to QPR for the way they played out their gameplan, but I really hope this isn`t the start of teams wising up to us, because the way we played yesterday, it was like we were away from home.
The air of invincibility has gone at the Britannia now, people will always see it as a tough game, but teams will look at the Newcastle and QPR matches and see it as a winnable game now, and for a team who prides itself, or rather, RELIES on it`s home form, that`s extremely concerning.
I`m hoping this bad run of form is because the team haven`t gelled yet, as we`ve had plenty of chopping and changing already this season because of the Europa campaign.
I`m not panicking just yet, but if we don`t beat Blackburn next Saturday, it`s hard to see where the next win is going to come from.
But, it was fantastic to see Fuller back, I think we'll need him more than every over the coming games.