The last few weeks or so probably typify Stoke since Mark Hughes took over as boss. The Monday night trip to Swansea was one where most would have been happy with a point considering the record there and the quality of their side… three points it was.
So, four consecutive wins with three clean sheets and Watford to come next at the Brit. Straightforward, right? Of course not. The best team won on the day without Stoke, at home, really threatening whatsoever.
Then of course came the cup game against Chelsea, which I think was a great mix of the Stoke of old and the flare side of it Hughes has brought in. Throughout, Stoke were organised but created chances also.
What we saw in extra time was just fantastic. Several players on their last legs but still managing to keep their shape to get it to penalties where anything can happen… and it did.
Huge credit should go to Mame Diouf for filling in at right-back, captain Ryan Shawcross for completing 120 minutes on his return and of course Jack Butland, who just gets better every week.
Last Saturday’s draw at Newcastle was one where the defence was positively solid but, unexpectedly, the ray of attacking talent failed to produce, and it’s not the first time that has happened this season.
These results and performances have been a theme in the last few years. Hughes’ reign has featured wins over Arsenal (x2), Chelsea (x2), Man Utd, Liverpool and, of course, that win at the Etihad against Manchester City.
On the flip side it has featured home defeats to Villa, Leicester, Burnley, West Brom, Watford, and Norwich. It’s almost like we struggle to get up for the games against the ‘lesser’ teams so to speak, particularly at home.
Supporters, whether it’s here or everywhere I am not sure, are either on cloud nine or down in the dumps. A difficult start left some worried, four straight wins saw them overly optimistic and a poor home defeat knocks them back again.
I think it’s important to be level headed and not get too carried away when it’s good, but not panic too much when we have a bad result or two either. The reality is every game in this league is difficult, and as we have discovered those coming here are going to make it tough for us.
Three defeats out of six at home is not the form anybody would expect of Stoke, and as it has been for the last few seasons work needs to be done on breaking those down with a game plan.
One game that certainly can’t be taken for granted is the Capital One Cup quarter-final against Sheffield Wednesday.
You could argue it was the best draw possible, but a game against a ‘better’ opposition would have perhaps been more likely to get Stoke going.
Despite the XI put out by Arsene Wenger, this is a team that beat Arsenal 3-0 to reach this stage. And, without doubt, they’ll sell an allocation of roughly 4,800, taking up the entire South Stand, and will come here full of confidence.
It’s interesting to see that the game is sandwiched between a trip to Sunderland and a home lunchtime kick-off against Manchester City, which might affect team selection.
What a huge opportunity to get to the semi-finals, but it has to be forgotten until week beginning November 30, and concentration has to be on picking some more league points up before that.