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COLUMNIST KEN BUCKLEY

From my seat: Stoke City (A)

By Ken Buckley :  01/05/2010 :  Comments (23) :
Another draw, 2 points dropped that ensures we are dropped from the next Euro draw — from a game in which the manager and players gave far too much respect to Stoke’s famed penalty box onslaught from throws and set pieces.

Totally unbalancing the team to deal with this situation back-fired as we laboured dreadfully first half to get any cohesion at all and it took the replacement of Saha and Osman after all of 70 mins to at last have a lion’s share of play... but all too late to stop our season petering out.

We started brightly enough but it soon became apparent that, with the changes, we did not have the fluidity of previous games as players seemed ill at ease with the formation and anyone watching would have had difficulty in determining any formation at all. It took us almost to the 20-minute mark to have some sort of effort when an in-swinger of a cross from Arteta was headed clear.

Stoke pressed and forced a throw; while Delap was wiping the ball, you could sense panic at the back, even with the changes that saw the height of Yobo and Jags to combat such situations. The throw was brilliant and Shawcross headed wide.

We tried a bit of joined-up stuff and then a bit of hoof but the only common denominator was that Saha failed to get the ball to stick and Osman fell over in most cases... in fact, in one comedy moment, the ball knocked him over!

The Stoke fans were in tremendous voice and appealed loudly for a penalty on the half-hour mark when Arteta was in an aerial collision with a Stoke player but our World Cup team of officials Mr Webb and both his linesmen waved away the protests. Neville then released Big Vic who contrived to pull his shot wide.

For the rest of this woeful half, Stoke seemed to have more of the attacking but troubled Howard very little. We did have one move of note when a link-up between Arteta and Baines saw an interchange of passes which culminated in Baines firing a thunderbolt right footer goal bound only for our very own Big Vic to get in the way and the ball bounced harmlessly wide.

Half-time and many thought changes should be made considering the strength of our bench today and the more than poor performances of both Saha and Osman; it just wasn’t their day. Many opined that Pienaar was a big miss this time due to another training ground injury!

The second half started with no changes for the ‘all-Blues’ and within seconds we should have been 1 down when a move down Stoke’s left saw Jags nowhere and Etherington playing in Delap with a good crossfield pass but, from only 6 yards, he sliced wide,;if he had been a bit nearer it would have been as bad a miss as Donovan at Spurs.

We survived and did start to put some moves together but just nothing was happening up front and Stoke were just as bad going the other way. Jags did have a weak scuffer saved and Stoke tried from range and then had a free kick rebound from our wall.

On 70 mins — at last — the manager took off Saha and Osman and introduced Yak and Jack; the ball started to stick better and we played some joined-up stuff. We had our own shouts for a pen when Big Vic was hauled down in the box and the same player curled a 20-yarder just wide.

It was mostly Everton now and, from an Arteta corner, Jags headed down and in to send all into raptures only for our World Cup linesman to flag and rule out the goal. Our yells stuck in the throat as we were dumbfounded at the decision. "What the hell was that for?" many asked. The only thing I saw was Big Vic in front of the keeper, was he interfering? Anyhow — no goal.

We continued to attack and throw caution to the wind but it was either a little too frenetic or a little too considered and no further chances ensued. Final whistle; no Europe and with the Stoke fans remaining to celebrate their season with the players, I was glad to leave. My prayer beads are now in a bin in Fenton.

Overall, I thought it a poor game but my mood was not helped by the manager's team selection, which I thought put too many round pegs in square holes for the sake of a few long throws, corners and set pieces. We may have equalled our 10-game unbeaten record in the Premier League years and be third on form since Christmas — if such a table existed — but to let Stoke set the agenda for the game instead of making them worry about us I found most frustrating.

MotM was hard to find; my nomination: Distin... followed closely by Arteta with a good word for Big Vic who at least seemed fired up.

Last game of the season Sunday next; nothing on it when we should have been glued to radios for the Hull score whilst rocking the ‘Old Lady’... Still a good day out will do instead let’s hope the weather is balmy.

See you there
UP THE BLUES

Reader Comments

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Denver Daniels
1   Posted 02/05/2010 at 07:03:19

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My two cents:

- Poor performance overall by the players as well as the coaching staff;

- We played too slow.............. needed to up the tempo (which we did only after the 2 subs, approx 70th minute);

- Big Vic and Distin were the best of a poor bunch;

- Arteta set the the tempo with his side-to-side passing and slow build-up play... one of the poorest displays I've seen from him;

- Why wait till the 70th minute to make the subs? Moyes could have seen that Saha & Osman weren't gonna get any better no matter how long they stayed on the pitch. They should have been subbed off way earlier than that.

- Bily on for 1.5 minutes...... the point being what exactly???

- Neville is the biggest impostor of a professional football player that the world has ever seen. He can't even make a simple 5-yard pass without giving the ball away or putting a team-mate under pressure. How he ever got 59 England caps I'll never know.

- Jags is not a right-back

I hope Moyes plays some of the kids next week. Give the senior players a deserved rest.
Mike Elbey
2   Posted 02/05/2010 at 10:37:55

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Another fair report, Ken.

Not a good day for Moyes, I am afraid. Whilst his team selection was open to criticism, it was his all-too-familiar reluctance to make early substitutions or formation changes that fustrates me.

In a way, I feel for Osman. He is basically a fish out of water when he playes on the wing, just as Cahill was earlier in the season. However, Ossie gets criticesed for being shit whereas Cahill has excuses made for him because he is 'out of position'. Ossie could have been switched into the middle even if only for 10 minutes or so to see what happened.

A game we HAD to win, draw or loss irrelevant, and yet we still have a defensive midfielder on the pitch at the end... Why not leave Saha on when he brought on the Yak? — they have often combined well when paired together late on on games.

Yes, we had a legitimate goal disallowed but our performance hardly merited 3 points. We play good on-the-deck football for over a month and then we come up against one of the biggest and most physical teams in the league and what are our tactics for the game? — Get it to Yobo, Distin or Jags and wellie it as far as you can!!!

Baffling...

David Hallwood
3   Posted 02/05/2010 at 11:48:32

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It's a pity the team's performances wasn't a consistent as yours, Ken. I posted on another thread the same point that to pick a team to stop Stoke's aerial stuff was unbelievably negative thinking by Moyes — especially when we needed the win, but a loss wouldn't have killed us.

The other point is the alarming slide in form of Saha since he signed his contract, maybe as part of the new contract they should have given him a dog, so he can look like he's doing something useful while he's strolling round the park.

Dick Fearon
4   Posted 02/05/2010 at 11:52:13

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Thanks again Ken, I saw the whole game on TV and your report helps to round off the scene.
Mike Elbey, I wish you and other Osmanites would open your eyes to the fact that he was utter shite yesterday and has always been utter shite whatever position he plays in. I would have thought that Landan Donavon's all-too-brief stay would have opened your eyes to what a decent midfielder was like.
Steve Edwards
5   Posted 02/05/2010 at 12:05:37

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I thought we lacked Pienaar's guile in the last third. I fear that he has played his last game for the club and strongly suspect that he has told Moyes that he won't be signing a new contract. Moyes has done what Moyes does and gave him the Lescott treatment. I hope I'm wrong but if I'm not we better get used to the display that we witnessed against Stoke.

That bit of extra class means the difference between winning and drawing games like this. Mark my words, the money that we get for Pienaar will go no way to replacing him. One step forward and one step back; that's the way it is for us unfortunatley.

Peter Griffin
6   Posted 02/05/2010 at 14:19:48

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Jack Rodwell came on for Osman with 20 minutes to go, and the first thing he did was pick the ball up on the half-way line, run at their defence, and shoot after bursting into their box, which won us a corner. Osman lost the ball every time he got it.

If you're going to pick players to start for their height (Yobo), why didn't Rodwell start instead of Osman? I can only assume he wasn't fit enough after his recent groin injury, but the difference was there for all to see.

The build up was so slow, due to a midfield without one quick player, that we could never fully capitalise on our counter-attacks. We badly missed Pienaar's movement and creativity; for those who say "Let him go", yesterday's midfield should make you think twice.

Saha was isolated and (you could argue) disinterested, but, when you're playing against the Stoke back 4 on your own and lacking quality support, it's no wonder.

I thought the defence defended well, but were still guilty of hoofing the ball away needlessly. Anichebe goes down and whinges like a girl, but he was positive and shot whenever there was half a chance. Mikel was unusually sloppy and we lacked penetration in the final third. Something we've lacked all too often in our 13 draws this season.
Chris James
7   Posted 02/05/2010 at 14:35:53

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I generally don't come on here to criticise the manager because 7/10 times I tend to agree with the approach and the rest of the time I at least sympathise with the reasoning, but for the life of me I really can't understand our approach to yesterday's game.

For once, the criteria was absolutely clear — we had to win at all costs to put pressure on Liverpool and keep the (admittedly remote) Europa opportunity alive... and crucially there were no additional repercussions if we lost. Birmingham can't catch us anyway, so we couldn't even lose a position. Essentially it was a real chance to just go gung-ho attack — if we win then great, if we lose/draw then it's not great shakes.

Against that backdrop, it just makes no sense to set ourselves up in a way to neutralize the opposition's threat, especially if it means compromising our style of play. We should have gone Brazilian, glory or bust 'we're going to score one more than you' and at least give the fans something entertaining.

But we didn't and now we've gone out of the European race not with a bang, but a whimper, leaving us a dead rubber against Pompey playing for their cup final places. Not the greatest way to close out a season. Bah — roll on the World Cup!
Ray Robinson
8   Posted 02/05/2010 at 15:30:57

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I have no problem with Yobo coming in to combat Stoke's aerial threat. After all, you can't beat a team if you concede cheap goals at set plays. The mistake that Moyes made, in my opinion, was to play Neville whose only instinct is to play a holding role and pass the ball sideways. Rodwell showed when he came on that the way to threaten Stoke is by running at them, something Neville will never do.

So nothing against the three centre-back formation but wrong selection in midfield, particularly with Pienaar being absent.
Mike Elbey
9   Posted 02/05/2010 at 15:32:42

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Dick Fearon,

If you think I am what you call an 'Osmanite' then you are sadly mistaken. If you read my post, I said that Osman was hopeless yesterday. I also said he was hopeless as a right-sided midfielder. However, your comment that he has never had a good game for Everton is just plain ridiculous. Indeed, many of our best football has coincided with Osman playing in the middle of midfield. I was merely suggesting some tactical adjustments by the manager may have brought a different result.

You say I should open my eyes? Dick (coincidence?), maybe you should open your eyes and read what is written before making comments.
Alan Kirwin
10   Posted 02/05/2010 at 16:03:45

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Denver Daniels

"Neville is the biggest imposter of a professional football player that the world has ever seen...How he ever got 59 England caps I'll never know."

Let me help you. There are some with decades of knowledge & experience within the professional game (at the highest level) who know much more than you and you're just wrong.
Michael Kenrick
11   Posted 02/05/2010 at 16:42:37

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Mike Elbey, please indulge me — complete this sentence:

"We had a legitimate goal disallowed because.... ???"
David Hallwood
12   Posted 02/05/2010 at 17:01:08

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Just to labour the point; I'm watching the Sunderland v Man U game, Chelski's just twatted the RS and United need the win, Taggart MK I opts for 4-4-2, the midfield has two 30+ players... but that's the difference between the two Taggards, DM would still be cautious, whereas Fergie gambles.

To quote Frederick the Great, He who defends everything defends nothing.

Chris Butler
13   Posted 02/05/2010 at 17:18:16

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The problem is simple: we lack a player in central midfeild capable of attacking directly, rather than the endless sideways passing that slows our attacks down.

Rodwell and Jagielka looked our brightest players going up front. Distin and Yobo were terrific at the back. Despite the stick Saha was getting, the problem was that nobody played balls to his feet.

We need Coleman back as he is the only player in our team who is capable of taking players on down the wings. Baines has been terrific yet too often is used as a left midfield player. Arteta's sloppiness prevented two chances in the game: one chance, when he tried to flick it past the defender in the box rather than passing it to the free man, annoyed most of the Blues.

The only good bit in the 90 minutes was after a shot into the crowd when Howard came to retrieve the ball, nobody gave the ball back to him, which he found hilarious to say the least, prompting the 4th official to get the ball.

Dave Wilson
14   Posted 02/05/2010 at 19:04:34

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Chris; I never got there yesterday, but I`d be interested to hear your thoughts on the atmosphere in the Brittania. The whole ground seemed to be standing last season
Peter Norris
15   Posted 02/05/2010 at 20:57:04

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Chris; the atmosphere before the game was great but shite once we started — with the exception of the Howard incident and keeping the ball. We were too negative and paid too much respect for Stoke's six footers. Saying that, Yobo was immense and my MotM.

Agree, Rodders should have started as he is the only one who ran at them in Stevie P's absence.

By the way, did anyone like me see the players arrive and not one of the overpaid prima donas acknowledge the crowd cheering them — with the exception of DM?

Stoke's players put them to shame as they arrived, they were happy to sign autographs for the kids.
Mike Elbey
16   Posted 02/05/2010 at 21:26:00

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Michael,

in my opinion it was a legitimate goal because Anichebe was not involved in the goal and as such not interfering with play.

I do accept that as he was in front of the keeper there is an argument that he interfered but you rarely if ever see these goals dissallowed. In fact, the only one I can remember was also a 'goal' we scored at Chelsea on the last day of the season a few years back. There are far more examples of similar situations like Jag's goal where the goal is given without complaint. Indeed, there was no complaint in the aftermath of the 'goal' from either the Stoke goalkeeper or any of their players whose reaction was to put their hands in their heads — hardly the actions of players expecting a favourable decision.

Hopefully that explains my statement.
Dick Fearon
17   Posted 02/05/2010 at 22:37:19

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Mike E; OK, so I exaggerated a bit. Over the years Osman has indeed had a few games that could be described as good. On the same basis, any other midfield player, regardless how poor, given the same opportunities, would also have an occasional good one.

If we have any hope of success, we cannot rely on a player who might have one good game out of ten. We should be giving as much experience as possible to youngsters who at the very least have the physical attributes demanded in the EP and not waste valuable time on someone who has proved to be not up to it.

Mike Elbey
18   Posted 03/05/2010 at 12:26:02

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Thanks Dick.

As I said I am no Osman fan but I do think he can offer something from a squad point of view. I also stand by my original point that switching him into the middle instead of the defensive midfielder, even if only for 10 minutes or so, was worth doing. For a start he is capable of scoring from the edge of the area.

What really annoyed me was in a game we needed to win we never really 'went for it'. Howard Kendall once said that if you need a goal then you have to have as many people who can score goals on the field as possible. We took off Saha, Osman and Anichebe whilst leaving on Neville, Yobo etc. There is no way Saha should have been taken off no matter how poorly he had played as he for one is capable of doing nothing but bang one in from 30 yards.

All too negative from DM — draw or defeat made no difference to us didn't he realise that ?
Bob Parrington
19   Posted 03/05/2010 at 13:34:31

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Even a blind man could see very early on that Saha and Osman were not in the game. Why then wait so long to sub them. Definitely a coaching mistake in my books.

Can't remember who said it but the disallowed goal unfortunately seemed a correct decision by the linesman. Interfering with play doen't mean you have to touch the ball. Anichebe was in an offside position so close to the goallie, obscuring his view. That's why it was disallowed. Our bad luck that the linesman was on the ball. Why doesn't that happen the other way when we concede?

Our own fault that we didn't secure a European spot. We just didn't finish the run-in that well with too many winnable draws! Frustrated, but still... COYB
Stephen Cowdy
20   Posted 03/05/2010 at 19:43:44

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I thought Saha and Osman were useless on Saturday, Saha doesn't look interested since he got his contract, and Osman is nothing more than a squad player at best. With 1 or 2 players in the summer, we could go from strength to strength and finish in top 4 no problem...
Jay Harris
21   Posted 04/05/2010 at 00:00:04

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My view for what its worth is that Moyesy had already given up on Europe, was trying to keep Yobo happy or put him in the shop window and that Saha is nursing himself so he can go to the World Cup with France.

After a MotM display from Hibbo last week, why put him on the bench?

And surely if Peanuts was injured, the logical thing to do was play Yak and Saha as it was shit or bust for a win.

I normally defend Moyesy to the hilt saying that he's the professional, what do we know, but I have to say I am totally confused about his tactics and selection.

Almost forgot, great report as ever, Ken.
Stewart Littler
22   Posted 05/05/2010 at 10:58:40

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My two pennies worth: I could totally understand playing Yobo to combat the areial threat — this is not negative tactics, it's merely limiting the opposition scoring the best you can to improve your chances of winning the game. However, with the lack of width due to Pienaar being out, and the encouraging performance of Hibbert the week before, I thought it would have been ideal to try a wing back formation.

As for the 'goal', anyone who thinks that a bullet header into the top corner from a corner kick can be legitimately flagged for offside needs to take up a different sport. Whilst the black and white makes clear that any player in an offside position interfering with play should be flagged, logic and common sense tells you that this would simply make corners so easy to defend - hold a line at the edge of the 6 yard box, and any player standing in front of the keeper to distract him is offside as soon as contact with the ball is made. The opposition would then have to keep all their players behind this line, giving the keeper loads of space to come and claim the catch.

How a referee supposedly as good as Mr Webb can see any differently is beyond me — the linesman has an excuse, as from his angle, he can't be sure whether Anichebe has made any contact with the ball. He should have flagged, and Mr Webb should have made the decision that no contact was made, and that any 'interference' was irrelevant.

To give an example, a goal was scored 2 or 3 weeks back (by Chelsea I think) where the shot came in from 25 yards or so — one of the Chelsea strikers was offside, and in the eyeline of the keeper, but the keeper didn't have a cat in hell's chance of stopping the goal. It was given, as the striker was not interfering in play — interference determined as changing the course of events.

In summary, if Anichebe had been having a chat with Howard, Jags, or the flippin tea lady for that matter, the header would still have gone in — so I cannot understand how Mr Webb has determined him to be interfering with play.

As for the Blues, it was a limp display. Too many players off their game, substitutions made too late, and no urgency or so it seemed to me. One thing I have to say though, is that we still tried to play some footy, when it would have been oh so easy to start lumping it constantly. If we can learn how to win games like this, we will be ever much closer to being where many of us want to be.

Michael Kenrick
23   Posted 05/05/2010 at 16:05:48

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Stewart, I think in this case, though, Anichebe was standing right in front of Begovic (not just in his line of sight), and arguably interfering with his ability to save the header, therefore gaining supposedly unfair advantage from an offside position.

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