We can talk about injuries, about refereeing decisions and about hitting the woodwork but the stark fact is that Stoke City haven’t been on a good run since we started the New Year.
We’ve just had three games against the teams above and we’ve scored two and conceded six. The players have given everything and things have gone against them but that’s what happens in competitive sport.
There are challenges that you have to meet. In January we didn’t win a game and in February we lost more than we won.
Now we have a game against Wycombe when nothing but a win will do and two away trips to Middlesbrough and Cardiff before Wayne Rooney’s lot come to Stoke.
That will either give us a bit of hope or extinguish the candle on this season. If we have any chance of a late dash for the play-offs we need maximum points.
We’re three quarters of the way through the season and it’s muck or poise time. Everybody is scrambling but we’re drifting.
There are points to be had looking at April’s fixtures but, from Stoke’s position, if you don’t bag a load in March they won’t be much use. Ten points is a lot to catch up on the top six and we need four wins just to be near.
It was a bad decision in injury time against Swansea in mid-week but we have to make our own luck – and we can be grateful that at least we haven’t got VAR. We have officials who are part of the game and the best way to deal with them is to do our own job properly.
Jack Clarke shouldn’t have been the last man defending in the final minute. Where was the back line? Rhys Norrington-Davies’s run was blocked to cut out the pass – but he was blocked because he was on the wrong side of his man.
Jordan Thompson had come on to replace Nick Powell in the final minutes in a move that signalled that we were going to be compact to make sure we didn’t concede a late goal. In that situation, we shouldn’t have been running backwards, you should be coming onto the ball forwards. Your defence should be a solid block.
Clarke was caught on the wrong side of Kyle Naughton and Naughton did what players are being taught to do. Instead of touching the ball forward, step into the opposing player. Clarke does it himself going the other way. It’s part of so-called professionalism.
Instead of gaining that point, you lose and you spend the next couple of days feeling fed up.
Injuries have had an impact. We’ve had constant changes at goalkeeper and centre-back, moving from a back four to a back three partly due to shuffling because of problems in other areas. That’s the main base that you build on and it doesn’t help when that’s in flux.
Play-offs or not, there are still positives.
Nick Powell is on form and in a good linking partnership with Steven Fletcher. I like Powell, I think he’s a main man, a clever player and we need to use him in that number 10 role where he can make the most of his knowledge. He’s cheeky with it and can wind up defenders.
Mentally he looks in a good place this season. You can tell that by how he can nick the ball back in the opposition half. He’s alert and working out of possession when, if he switches off, he would end up in daft areas for a player of his ability.
It’s a positive to have Joe Allen back too after fearing for his future when he suffered that horrible injury.
Sometimes he tries too hard for a player of his experience and gets pulled into the wrong places. You want him in those central areas, linking with Powell and Fletcher. I want to see more of those breakthrough runs into the box to assist and score, like we saw when he set up Powell’s second against Luton.
Don’t do extra work in wider areas. His job is to tell the wide players or the full-backs if they’re not doing something they should, not try to do it for them. He’s a forceful player and if he concentrates on his own strengths getting into that attacking third the team will be better for it.
Partnerships are so important and Allen and Mikel should be clicking in every game.
I like Harry Souttar, a young player coming through who seems like he’s going to have a future in the game. He’s got all the attributes you need and he needs to quickly grow, learning from his successes as well as his mistakes. You don’t just learn if something goes wrong, know what goes right and repeat it.
I think the atmosphere looks good in the club, the togetherness is there and the players seem a decent bunch, a hard-working group. That looks healthy.
There are pluses but, as always in football, as well as looking at the big picture, it’s the here and now that matters too and that’s results. We need wins.