Toothless Stoke draw
Stoke City survived another dreadful performance to scrape a 1-1 draw against Tony Pulis' former club, Plymouth Argyle at the Britannia Stadium.
With the exception of Steve Simonsen, without whom the Potters would have surely lost by at least two or three goals, this was a game that nearly lived up that dismal defeat at the hands of Darlington on Tuesday night. To emphasise what a poor performance it was, I can never remember a Stoke team being booed off the field at half time - whilst winning 1-0!
Pulis brought back Luke Chadwick, Carl Hoefkens and Dave Brammer after their rest in midweek and Danny Higginbotham passed a fitness test to return to defence. On paper this is the Potters` strongest defence but they were soon allowing the Pilgrims 'access all areas' and were heavily relying on Simonsen to stop the visitors getting the early advantage. In the first half hour super Simo was a full stretch to stop a shot from Nick Chadwick going into the bottom left hand corner of the net, another finger tip save from Barry Hayles in the top left hand corner and finally with the ball rebounding off everyone, Simonsen got in the way of a goal bound ball before Hoefkens finally managed to clear.
Stoke's goal came five minutes before half time - against the run of play. Good work by Pericard, holding the ball in the penalty area and then passing back to Sidibe who fired a low shot from 12 yards past the Plymouth keeper into the bottom right hand side of the net.
The second half started livelier as Plymouth raised their game in an effort to get back on level terms. Pulis reverted to the tried and tested tactics of two seasons ago - get all eleven players back to defend and hit long balls down the park. The Pilgrims passed the ball around comfortably, whilst the Potters continued to struggle to get a rhythm going. On the hour mark, Luke Chadwick made way for Jeff Whitley. Chadwick had not been his normal energetic self and is obviously still suffering.
After 75 minutes, Plymouth finally managed to get past the redoubtable Simonsen following their third corner in quick succession. Amid a tangle of bodies in the six yard box, striker Barry Hayles managed to hit the ball past Simonsen for the predicted equaliser.
As the clock ticked towards the final whistle it was still the visitors who piled on the pressure and may even have had the final laugh had it not been for a timely tackle on sub Rueben Reid from Michael Duberry. Seconds later, Reid nearly had another chance with Pulis angrily pointing at his watch.
If Messrs Coates, Pulis and Rudge needed reminding where they need to splash the cash, this game would have reminded them. If Stoke were struggling in defence it is nothing to what they were doing in attack. Dave Brammer, in particular, struggled in midfield and offered little support to Vincent Pericard and Mama Sidibe up front. Pericard seems to have great trouble staying on his feet and whilst he certainly had his fair share of attention from the Plymouth defence, he has to learn to use his height to his advantage. Too often he tumbled to the ground just for the referee to wave play on. With Sam Bangoura still unfit and Pulis not exactly eagerly anticipating his return, Stoke are in desperate need of the much talked about '20 goals a season striker' and there are only five days left to do something about it.
Stoke: Simonsen, Hoefkens, Duberry, Hill, Higginbotham, Chadwick (Whitley 60), Russell, Brammer, Sweeney (Harper 81), Sidibe, Pericard.
Subs not used: Sigurdsson, Pulis, Dickinson.
Plymouth: McCormick, Connolly, Doumbe, Aljofree, Capaldi (Reid 73), Norris, Wotton, Nalis, Hodges, Hayles, Chadwick (Ebanks-Blake 56).
Subs not used: Buzsaky, Sawyer, Summerfield.