Stoke City went toe-to-toe with promotion-chasing Bournemouth but can’t win games if they’re not scoring. Here are the talking points from a snowy bet365 Stadium.
Stoke need a forward to shoulder the burden – they might need two
Stoke have only scored five goals in 10 games since Steven Fletcher careered into that advertising board against Norwich at the end of November. It’s two in six since Tyrese Campbell limped out of the defeat to Cardiff in early December.
They had looked so dynamic going forward with that pair in unison.
Without one, Campbell had maintained a threat… and Fletcher did likewise in the early stages against Bournemouth. Without both – and Lee Gregory – it’s pretty urgent to keep a clean sheet and try to nick one from a set piece or otherwise.
Stoke had six of their 11 shots in the opening 20 minutes. It affected the whole team. Jacob Brown and Nick Powell both had a couple of efforts without Fletcher, as well as Harry Souttar, but the belief had drained that Stoke had goals in them.
Brown and Sam Vokes have only got one league goal between them in 1,679 minutes and just don’t have the same confidence. There’s not the same buzz.
Sam Clucas and Joe Allen will offer more attacking nous from midfield as they find their feet but it’s pretty obvious that Stoke need to find help up front as quickly as possible in January. Maybe they need two rather than one. Maybe one of those will have to wait until summer.
We knew that before Saturday night but it didn’t half hammer it home.
Yet when everyone is fit, Stoke are a good side
That first half of the first half was a good window into what Stoke can offer.
Players can fizz off Fletcher and John Obi Mikel at the centre of things in midfield gave Jordan Thompson and Joe Allen licence to get into the box.
Before that injury, Stoke had enjoyed 57 per cent of possession against a side which was expected to dominate. They were keeping the ball as well as winning battles. It was a good mix.
Bournemouth still had a couple of good chances themselves in that period but they’re going to stay right at the top end of the Championship. Stoke were at least a match, despite the queue to see the physio.
There is hope in there. They are not all that far away even if it’s the most crucial area that is missing.
They have had 28 matches in four months and been knocked sideways by injuries to key men in key areas yet come out still within two points of the top six.
But there is a little gap opening now and Stoke can’t afford to let it grow. By the time they head to Blackburn for their next league game on January 16, Michael O’Neill could do with a fresh face or two.
Don’t forget a left-back in the January sales
One injury can’t dictate Stoke’s whole shape.
Morgan Fox’s absence is sharply felt and he could do with competition and cover even when he’s fit.
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John Brooks’ card delivery
A bit of inconsistency from the referee. There four yellow cards for Stoke – although only James McClean, who slipped before he caught David Brooks, could really complain too much – but none for a Bournemouth team that was at least as niggly.
Lewis Cook (five) got away with more than double the number of fouls of any Stoke player.
There were some pretty soft decisions when Stoke were in dangerous positions too, like when Nick Powell was accused of fouling Steve Cook at 0-0 when Tommy Smith’s cross came over in the 67th minute. Jason Tindall was very lucky.
The whistle had gone before James McClean put it in the net but he would have been backed to do so anyway and in a match that was probably going to be decided by one chance, that might have been it.
Stoke City’s tribute to those lost in 2020
There are things that put everything else in perspective, even if 37 games into behind-closed-doors Stoke matches it is too easy to be sanitised to the sight of empty stands.
Stoke printed the names of fans, ex-players and former staff who had died in 2020 over two pages of the programme and played a poignant tribute on the big screen, relayed via social media to supporters who would normally have been there to pay respects, ending with the message: “To all those members of the Stoke City family that we lost in 2020, may they rest in peace.”
A horrible year. At least, on the pitch, Stoke will be in such a better position when fans do return than when the turnstiles were last open. Thank goodness for that.