Two steps forward and one step back. That’s how you can best describe Stoke City’s last three results after a frustrating 1-0 home loss to Rotherham United on Tuesday.
After two straight promising wins over Sheffield United and Preston, Stoke City’s winning ways came crashing down on Tuesday. However, it came crashing down for Stoke City in a much different sense than you would normally think. Their winning ways were swept away through safeguarding by Rotherham.
If you lose in the Championship, more often than not it’s a specific club not playing well or being dominated by the other club. In Stoke City’s case on Tuesday at Bet365 Stadium, at least one of those was absolutely not true. In fact, it was the opposite, as The Potters were actually the ones dominating the match.
One could say Stoke City didn’t play well in their loss on Tuesday. Which isn’t a totally crazy notion. After all, the team didn’t score any goals and they weren’t able to keep a clean sheet. The Potters also failed to generate great chances over the course of 90 minutes in attack.
So saying the club didn’t play well is somewhat accurate. But against Rotherham it was more complicated than that for Stoke. It’s complicated because Stoke City were still the better team on the pitch…
Stoke City Dominate But Still Lose
The Potters dominated possession over The Millers with 68% possession. Stoke City also fired 29 attempts towards goal, with 12 of those attempts making it on target (albeit not all of those attempts were great chances). On most days, that’s enough to get a team at least a share of the points, if not all three points.
Even defensively Stoke City controlled the match. Rotherham managed only four attempts with just one attempt making it on target. It just so happens that one attempt was the only one Rotherham needed to score only six minutes into the match.
After back-to-back corners within the first five minutes, Rotherham played a corner short to Oliver Rathbone who carried the ball around 30 yards out and fired towards goal. Stoke goalkeeper Josef Bursik had a wall of players in front of him but was unable to see the shot, allowing the ball to roll past him into the net.
Adding insult to injury (literally) on that same well drawn-up set piece by Rotherham, Stoke City were playing with one less player on the field – defender Phil Jagielka was waiting to come back into the match after suffering a head injury on a Miller’s previous corner.
From that goal on, Rotherham parked the bus in a low block and forced Stoke City to dare to break them down in attack. Which unfortunately for The Potters they weren’t able to do.
Where Does Stoke City Go From Here?
This is a complicated match to digest for Stoke City. On one hand, they were the much better team. On the other hand though, a results a result. And for Stoke City that result was losing at home. Plus, although they dominated the match, Stoke City could have been much better in attack.
The biggest criticisms you can throw at The Potters from Tuesday’s match is they failed to generate a ton of fantastic chances on the ball. Quite a bit of the team’s chances were of the soft attempt variety, that were placed straight at keeper Viktor Johansson of Rotherham.
Listen, at the end of the day was there enough good chances from Stoke to scratch across goals and win or draw? Yes, there was probably. But Stoke City still could have generated even more chances given they had essentially 80 minutes to equalize and score more.
Teams in the Championship aren’t promoted based on moral victories. It’s about results – bottom-line. Even if you’re dominating a match you have to find a way to get those most important results.
So whether it be the team not creating enough quality chances or just their play not being good enough on the ball, there’s no excuses as to why Stoke City shouldn’t have won at home on Tuesday.
Who stood out for Stoke City against Rotherham United?
Liam Delap, wrecking ball:
Delap was Stoke City’s most promising attacker in Tuesday’s loss. It still wasn’t perfect from him, but Delap consistently gave Rotherham’s backline issues. Delap made some fantastic powerful runs throughout, on and off the ball.
He regularly used his size and strength to power through defenders with the ball or to get the ball. Had it not been for some questionable officiating throughout, Delap may have drawn even more fouls in the match. Overall, Delap opened things up in attack better than anyone from Stoke on Tuesday.
Phil Jagielka, true grit:
After going down with a head injury in the fifth minute, it appeared the veteran might be in line for a short day. Nope, Jagielka powered through and returned to the pitch after the conceded goal and locked things down defensively.
Jagielka consistently made the proper challenges and stayed positionally strong while wearing a bandage around his head for close to 85 minutes.
Honorary Mentions, Tariqe Fosu, Tyrese Campbell, and Dwight Gayle:
For this article’s honorary mentions, we’ll group all three players in. That’s because Fosu, Campbell, and Gayle were good but not great on Tuesday. All three of them (especially Fosu at times) looked explosive and ready to contribute.
But whether it be that final ball into the box, that final pass, or that final attempt, it just wasn’t good enough to unlock Rotherham’s low block. Not everything in attack should or can be blamed on them.
However, when operating with four forwards (if you include Fosu), all four including Delap will need to work together better in build-up and then with their final attack near the 18-yard box.