If Nathan Collins and Harry Souttar have done very well stepping up to the Championship this season, it was a great experience for them to be tested against a really strong Spurs side this week.
Well done, definitely, for how they have played over the last few months – and this is what they are going to have to learn to make the next step.
You have to take nights like this on the chin and make sure you are better for it. It’s all in the fine detail. That’s what Jose Mourinho demands from his players, as Dele Alli saw again – if you don’t like it, you’re off.
It’s being punished for mistakes that you normally get away with in the Championship. Discovering that in your own game and evolving is an essential part of development.
Stoke started with five at the back and four in midfield and I thought they competed well. The only problem with that set up, if it was a problem, was that we had three players picking up Harry Kane. You give up ground doing that but Michael O’Neill knew that and the focus was on trying to keep a clean sheet.
Spurs had to show their quality and experience to find a way through. The ball was up in the air a lot during the opening period and competition for it was fierce, but they used their know how from European and international football to make passes that didn’t tease Stoke but shifted the defence about. They manoeuvred the ball to create spaces and then work the gaps.
Stoke momentarily lost their shape for the opener. Harry Winks had a lot of time and space to whip in an inswinging cross on goal, which was a difficult one to defend – they had to hold that 18-yard line, build that brick wall and block attackers.
If players do run behind, you can step up and they’re offside. Stoke instead dropped deeper… and then, in turn, Souttar didn’t win the header and then there was no one to win the header behind him. When Stoke had got themselves in that position, there needed to be someone touch tight, goal side on Gareth Bale.
But, let’s be clear too, it was a top class, pin point glancing header from a world class player. Players in that Spurs team – especially when Erik Lamela and Hueng-Min Son came off the bench – only need a yard.
I take my hat off to Stoke. They worked for the manager, worked for the club and gave everything they had. They’ve been stuck down by a lot of injuries but gave Spurs a much better game than we managed in the last couple of seasons in the Premier League.
The big miss for me was John Obi Mikel and, as the game wore on, his knowledge would have come to the fore. Gaps started to appear in front of the central defenders.
So when it was a poor clearance from Souttar, there was a lack of depth in that area and no pressure on the recovery. Ben Davies had too much time and space but it was a precision finish that you would very rarely get in the Championship.
The third goal came from two players playing risk football. There was a little bit of naivety.
Souttar had just got away with trying to dribble in a dangerous area but then Collins turned in-field rather than down the line, passing from the back third to the mid third.
That naivety was followed by a mistake from Jordan Thompson – whether it was a lack of concentration or not being in control, letting the ball slip under his foot – and Spurs are set up to be strong on the transition. Boom, you’re done.
Kane was so purposeful all match, making darting little runs and working all the time, never letting up while passing was going on around him. But Souttar was brushed off the ball too easily and went with his wrong foot. He has to use his arms to adjust his position and make that right.
Still Stoke stuck to their guns. Nick Powell came on and upset a few players, Steven Fletcher made a big difference competing up front.
They had a belief in themselves and they were playing for the badge. That was good to see – and this whole cup run will help them get better. These are young players giving their all and it seems like they are keen to learn and be as good as they can be.
That is a cheering thought to take into Christmas to cap a pretty cheering 2020 for Stoke City. Let’s hope the progress continues at this pace over the next 12 months.
It feels like most Spurs managers in recent years would have rested Harry Kane last night.
It speaks volumes about Mourinho that he didn’t. He’s a winner. He wants to win this competition and wins shape a club.
He’s ruthless. I still remember back to when he was at Chelsea, running down to stare at Andre Schurrle when he didn’t track back. He didn’t even have to say anything. It was the same last night when he hooked Dele Alli after a flick gave the ball away in the mid-third. Do not give the ball away in the mid-third if Mourinho is your manager, certainly not with a flick.
He is in total control. He’s got the club where he wants them to be and now they need to back him to make sure he can take the next step.
I know Spurs fans who are don’t like him because this is different to the football they are used to playing over the years but give me winning football any day of the week, especially if and when it brings trophies.
Mourinho is a counter-attacking thinker right back from his days at Porto. He learned working with Bobby Robson at Barcelona and he knows what it takes to win. Spurs supporters should have faith in him, it won’t be long until that brings rewards.