Seven points from their last nine possible points – that’s the fantastic position Stoke City find themselves in after Saturday’s win over Preston North End; A win that now gives the club back-to-back wins against the top eight teams in the Championship.
After Saturday’s 2-0 win at Deepdale Stadium, Stoke City have now jumped up for the moment to 11th on the table with 19 points. That’s just three points away from breaking into the top six on the table. And even with two games remaining this weekend (which could move Stoke slightly on the table), it paints the picture that Stoke City are building something.
The something that Stoke City is building this season is still not completely in focus. Does that something they’re building mean promotion this year? Is it promotion next year? Does it mean a Championship playoff spot? Or even a guaranteed promotion position on the table?
Those are questions that will be answered over the next few months. But no matter what, Stoke City are clearly transforming into a fine-tuned machine that can compete every match for points. Which is why you can see the building blocks that Alex Neil has laid starting to pay off, into something bigger…
Stoke City Shine Again
Similarly to last Saturday’s win against Sheffield United, Stoke City again looked creative and inventive in their attack.
Because The Potters were dangerous in possession, (often switching the play, making quick one-touch passes, or threading through balls past Preston’s defenders) they were able to pin Preston deep in their own defensive third at times. Which really allowed Stoke City to play on their front foot and control a good chunk of possession (47% possession) for a club on the road.
All of Stoke City’s great offensive work started to pay off in the second half. After playing to 0-0 at the half, Stoke City finally broke through after Dwight Gayle was played a ball in deep down the left side and threaded a pass into the box for Will Smallbone.
Then later in the half, Tyrese Campbell would also be played into Preston territory from a fantastic Lewis Baker pass. Next, Campbell showed off his ability with a good first touch and then patience to wait for the right shot to appear to make it 2-0.
From there, it was all downhill for Stoke City. They continued to play strong defensively and closed out another strong outing. Like they had for the full 90 minutes, Stoke City rarely gave Preston an inch in their attack the rest of the way.
Outside of a few moments in the first half coming off of a free kick and corner, Preston never fully threatened to scratch across a goal on Saturday.
Who stood out for Stoke City against Preston North End?
Dwight Gayle, the pest:
Throughout the match, Gayle was all over the pitch and caused Preston some major headaches. Dwight Gayle’s biggest contribution, though, was his assist in the second half on Will Smallbone’s goal.
- Gayle on that play:
- Received a ball down the left wing in space.
- Showed off good vision to see Will Smallbone in the box.
- Delivered a perfect pass into the 18-yard box for Smallbone.
Gayle was also a pest in Stoke City’s build up phase of their attack. Gayle was very dynamic at linking up play over the course of the 90 minutes. Additionally, Gayle would threaten Preston in attack by hovering right to left on the pitch, and not just play centrally.
Tyrese Campbell, finishing strong:
Just like he did last week, Campbell started off the match very quietly and then turned things on late in the match. Campbell had some flashes of brilliance here and there on the ball in the first half.
But the second half is when Campbell really made his mark. Along with scoring Stoke’s second goal on a brilliant finish, Campbell made some great runs in space out-wide and delivered crosses into the box. These crosses allowed teammates to threaten with scoring opportunities.
Will Smallbone, Johnny on the spot:
Smallbone was very efficient everywhere he was needed on the pitch – Especially when it came to winning the ball back defensively.
Will Smallbone finished Saturday’s match with two tackles and four of eight ground duels won. Smallbone, early and often, was involved in winning the ball back for Stoke City and then initiating build up with efficient passes (91.7% passing accuracy).
Smallbone would also chip in by scoring the team’s first goal in the second half. The finish for Smallbone wasn’t a tough one, but still one that he showed confidence in.
Honorary Mentions, Lewis Baker, Tariqe Fosu, and Morgan Fox:
Lewis Baker: Baker is always very good on set pieces for Stoke City, by delivering quality balls into the penalty area consistently. Baker also assisted with a great weighted ball to Baker on the club’s second goal.
Tariqe Fosu: Fosu wasn’t as efficient as he was in the team’s recent matches. But he was still very solid. Fosu threatened in attack down Stoke City’s left side of their attack and gave Preston something to think about constantly in the first and second half.
Morgan Fox: Fox’s biggest moment in the match came when he threaded a through ball perfectly down the left side to Dwight Gayle in the second half. That pass would set up Gayle’s run and pass to Smallbone.
Fox for the rest of the match was defensively super reliable as well, by making some key tackles.