The ‘a point will do’ saying could have described Wednesday. Going down to ten-men early, Stoke City held firm to avoid defeat. Here are three take-away points from the game…
There wasn’t a huge expectation on this one to be a six-goal thriller; both sides have been struggling of late to find an outlet in the final third.
With all things considered, could Stoke City have done much more on Wednesday?
1. Mark Hughes needs to solve striking crisis
The 4-2-3-1 formation that is so often deployed now in the top-flight could be proving the only real option for Hughes.
Stoke City are struggling to find a reliable number nine as it is, let alone two.
Summer arrival Wilfried Bony had to wait six games before hitting his first goal for the Potters. There was a lot of expectation and hope on the Ivorian’s shoulders.
Football fans in general were keen to see if Bony could hit the form he found in South Wales a couple of seasons back.
It’s been a slow start for Bony. After scoring his first two goals against his former club, the shackles appeared to have finally been shaken off. Since then, however, the Manchester City loanee has slumped once more.
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Now relegated to the bench, has Hughes lost his patience? Mame Biram Diouf was then given a run-out up top, but that doesn’t appear to have worked either.
Marko Arnautovic was then deployed in a more central role, and has started the last two games in that position. Hughes hasn’t been afraid to change things up, but he has yet to find the solution.
2. Stoke City can dig in and hold their own
Going down to ten-men at any stage of a game always throws a spanner into the works of any game plan.
When it happens in the 23rd minute though, the remainder of the match can feel like an eternity.
With Arnautovic currently filling the role of a number 9, the attacking threat from Stoke City’s point of view had completely gone.
Southampton’s back-four have been notoriously difficult to break down in recent weeks, and the loss of one of the leading forwards in the side wasn’t going to make life any easier.
Saints ended the game with over 70% of the possession, and spent much of the second period camped in the Stoke City half.
Claude Puel’s side though have had a lot of trouble scoring themselves recently. Minus one or two obvious opportunities, they didn’t look likely on Wednesday, even with the man advantage.
Of course, the Stoke defence and midfield had to be even more disciplined and controlled to limit Southampton’s chances going forward, but the south-coast side hardly helped themselves.
3. Stoke City may need to re-invest in January
The Potters have only lost two games in their last eleven. In the same period, they have clocked up four wins and five draws.
While the results and league position seem much more respectable than they were at the end of September, you can’t help but feel that things still aren’t quite right.
The attacking play that not so long ago looked well-oiled and gelled has become clunky, lethargic and too intermittent.
Stoke City have only scored five goals in their last six games. The play in the opponents half doesn’t look fluid or potent enough.
This may be down to lack of consistency in the attacking areas of the field. Joe Allen seems to have lost his spark and creativity, and Stoke just don’t really seem to know where the goals are going to come from.
With injuries and suspensions preventing Hughes from playing a consistent side for each game, it can be difficult for those picked to get into any rhythm.
With Arnautovic now looking likely to miss the next three games following his red card, this dilemma looks like it may continue to carry on for Hughes and the backroom staff.
Can Bony use his recent banishment to return to the form the Stoke desperately need?