Not to be sniffed at – Final word on Stoke City 2 Cardiff City 0


Stoke City 2, Cardiff City 0

Paterson og (26), Allen (72)

We are yet to find out once and for all if Stoke City really are in safe hands under this manager, but we can be pretty sure they are in steady hands.

His predecessor’s answer to three defeats in four games might have been 12 changes to his starting 11, but Michael O’Neill’s was to retain his starting 11 and make just the slightest of adjustments.

The fact that his adjustment involved young Jordan Thompson, just a week after the midfielder’s first start for the club, shows that O’Neill has mastered the art of being both conservative and radical at the same time.

Thompson was shifted from the left flank to start against Cardiff as a defensive midfielder in front of his back four.

A slight and stylish player, not your arm flexing thug, he nevertheless takes credit for the clean sheet Stoke safely ushered in for the first time in five games.

Cardiff were robbed by injury of the talismanic Lee Tomlin and became predictably one dimensional against a Stoke back four seemingly determined to restore its reputation after their failings at QPR a week earlier.

Cardiff, unbeaten in their previous seven, were easy meat for Thompson and the four team-mates behind him, but no team in Stoke’s predicament could look sniffily at such a timely clean sheet and victory.

And the margin of their two-goal victory, which was no unfair reflection of their domination, keeps them chipping away at not just the points they will need to survive, but maybe the goal difference too.

Stoke are in the thick of a seven or eight club battle to avoid the drop and, fingers crossed, are in a sharper battle mode than some of their rivals after spending the entire season fighting for their lives.

On days like this, you look at Stoke and shake your head at their league position one moment, but lighten up in the next by realising they surely have too much to finish in the bottom three.

O’Neill is continuing to lean heavily on the experience he wanted to keep intact in his back four – notwithstanding that 4-2 defeat at QPR – plus the know-how of Joe Allen and Sam Clucas in midfield and Nick Powell’s renowned ability at this level.

Jordan Thompson in action in his first home start for Stoke City, a 2-0 win over Cardiff.

But he is also leaning on the exuberance provided by Tyrese Campbell’s power, aggression and, though not quite on this occasion, his finishing.

Campbell had one of those days when he might have bagged a hat-trick, but shouldn’t lose too much heart because he remained the kind of threat Stoke will require between now and the end of the season.

Perhaps he realised it wasn’t to be his day when freed on goal as early as the sixth minute by one of Stoke’s passes of the season from Clucas.

Looking like Kevin de Bruyne to the untrained eye for a split second, Clucas curled a perfectly-weighted pass around the outside of the centre half to leave Campbell clear for a shot against the advancing goalkeeper.

Campbell was also foiled by a double save from Alex Smithies ahead of Stoke’s killer second, while the striker was unluckiest of all when a fierce cross shot was tipped round the far post to prevent 2-0 becoming 3-0.

Instead, the goals were left to more unlikely scenarios and both, though deserved, had a touch of fortune about them.

Their first in the 26th minute saw Thompson’s in-swinging corner from the right missed by Powell’s attempt to head home before striking the adjacent Callum Paterson and finding the back of the Cardiff net.

And the second saw the ball squirm beneath Smithies, after he’d completed that double save from Campbell, and drop conveniently for a predatory Allen to prod home.

Stoke City players celebrate Joe Allen’s goal which sealed a 2-0 win over Cardiff.

Allen, a one-time Swansea favourite, later denied that his subsequent joy was all the  greater after scoring against Cardiff, of all clubs, but we’ll have to take his word for that with a bit of a nod and a wink.

Cardiff’s attempt to save themselves, such as it was, amounted to little more than a shot blocked at close quarters and an attempted cross forcing Jack Butland to back track and tip over his bar.

His subsequent punched clearance from the ensuing corner was but one example of his blatant determination to dominate aerially against a team renowned for its power in the air.

After picking the ball out of the net 11 times in four games, he will justifiably treasure this clean sheet more than most.





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