There’s no doubt that despite it being so early in the season, Stoke could really do with beating Bournemouth on Saturday. Not just for the three points, but just to bring some confidence to the dressing room more than anything.
Getting that first victory as soon as possible is so important, and the longer you go without it the more people start to panic.
If Mark Hughes’ side are to get that first win soon, one thing that needs to change is the amount of goals being conceded. The only clean sheet kept in all competitions so far this season was in Tuesday night’s 1-0 cup win against Fulham at Craven Cottage.
Not only are the side leaking too many goals, but Jack Butland has been man of the match in the majority of the games so far and he’s prevented the goals against tally rising even further in a number of games.
It’s clear the backline is missing captain Ryan Shawcross, who was ruled out for three months following back surgery, but there’s still a defence there with plenty of experience at club and international level.
I’m not sure Hughes knows his first choice back four yet, but out of what is currently available, he needs to find what works best and quickly. Shawcross’ eight years of experience leading the back line is without doubt being missed, but his problem is something the club has been aware of for a while.
Without question the attacking talent is there, but you don’t want to go into games relying on scoring more goals than the other side because it’s a dangerous game to play, particularly in this division. The likes of Shaqiri and Afellay will come good in time, just as Bojan did last season, but it’s just as important to stop goals going in as it is to score them.
Although you would say upcoming fixtures against Bournemouth, Villa and Watford are inviting, so were the games against West Brom, Norwich and Leicester – no games are easy in this division. You get the feeling it’s going to be another one of those seasons where opposition teams show us respect at the Brit, defend well and pick up a result, but then we’ll go away and pick up a few surprise wins.
You can’t rely on that though and, as ever, it’s crucial to be tough to beat at home, and if that fortress Britannia of old can return, then it would play a huge part in a bid to rise up the table.
The return of captain fantastic is long awaited but still some time away yet, and Bournemouth are the last side you want to be facing with defensive worries.
If that first league win can come on Saturday though, the confidence will start to breed and you would hope that would provide the platform to kick on. If that’s to happen, the back four will have to be on top form against a Cherries side as capable as any in the league of causing problems going forward and scoring goals.
Yes, it’s too early to panic, but the quicker them first three points come the better.