Stoke match report
In the build up to the fixture it was billed as David vs Goliath, the insurmountable odds facing Stoke in this one. You’d have to go back to 2012 for the last time a team in the relegation places beat a team that was top of the league. On top of that we’ve really had our woes against England’s elite in recent times.
Of the last 26 games against the top six, Stoke had won just once, conceding an astonishing 78 times. We let in four or more goals in 13 of those 26 meetings, making for grim reading before kick off against the division's top scorers.
Sad though it may be, 2-0 is actually good progress and it’s a step in the right direction. Paul Lambert said we were going to take the game to Manchester City and we did just that. We pressed quickly and really upset their rhythm in the opening stages of the game.
We were unfortunate to be caught out by a slick move early on which made the task all the more difficult. It was the only decent chance we allowed City in the first half but like great teams do they made the most of it.
Follow AskFans on Twitter
Even after an early setback, we didn’t go hiding and we stuck to a strong gameplan. City obviously aren’t used to playing in front of a packed and raucous home crowd, which may have aided our cause. We forced several errors from usually composed players throughout the first half which was all the more credit to our high-pressure game.
City did hit us again relatively quickly into the second half and the writing was on the wall from that point really. We did drop off a little after that and allowed City to comfortably see out the rest of the game.
Expensive wages, cheap tricks
The game was marred a little for me by some unsporting behaviour from the champions elect. With all the advantages they already had in terms of talent and form this season, it was an unnecessary subplot to a difficult game.
Raheem Sterling went down looking for a penalty shortly after the first goal. It was rightly waved away but I thought we were supposed to be punishing flops now? If that’s not a red card and a penalty then it’s obviously simulation. We’ve seen it too many times this season. Despite strong words from the FA, refs aren’t willing to take action. In a situation like this, it has to be either a penalty or a dive, it can’t be neither. For me it was the latter, there’s minimal contact and that should be a booking.
The ref was too soft all game, failing to punish another often overlooked foul - dissent. Kicking the ball away or carrying it up the pitch to prevent Stoke from getting the ball moving quickly. On one occasion Oleksandr Zinchenko even went over and shoved Xherdan Shaqiri to prevent him from taking a quick throw down the line, as he was out of position.
I know some fans pine for the days when men were men, but in today’s game that is a foul, to call it by its name - it’s cheating. In a game where chances were going to be few and far between for Stoke, we needed every opportunity we could get. On several occasions we were denied the opportunity to break quickly and Jonathan Moss needs to be stronger in those instances. He told a couple of players off but there’s no real repercussions, when each time City had regained their shape and our attacks came to nothing.
READ MORE: Can De Bruyne beat Henry? Premier League assist records season by season
It was a poor overall performance from the ref, I don’t know what he’s doing with a drop ball that nearly cost us a third goal. After a clash of heads, we should at least have been allowed to return possession back to Ederson Moraes. Instead, Moss played a drop ball with Sterling and Gabriel Jesus standing over it, putting Badou Ndiaye at a huge disadvantage. Ndiaye did excellent to get back and deny Sterling a certain goal, but it capped off an evening of sloppy officiating.
For luck, nor money
We couldn’t really carve out a clear chance in the end as we lacked a real cutting edge to exploit such an expensive back line. We pushed for large periods of the game, seizing on whatever breaks we could engineer but we just couldn’t quite get the final product right.
Our luck deserted us at every opportunity when we needed it most, we were just unable to bring the ball under control where it mattered. Balls always seem to land wrong, deflections were unkind and crosses were just slightly overhit each time we put the ball into the box. Ndiaye had our best chance after a great bit of build up - but an awkward ball meant neither he nor Jese Rodriguez could quite wrap their foot around it and a deflection took the ball narrowly wide.
A few balls were fired dangerously into the box that could have bounced anywhere and on another day we could have easily profited. We were up against a commanding centre-back pairing who ensured there was no joy for the men in middle for Stoke.
The result does feel harsh given the pressure we put on a far superior side, it’s not an unfair result though in truth. City haven’t dropped many points this season and they were just that bit better than us on the day.
It was at least improvement from Stoke and what is crucial now is that we carry that forward and put in a similar performance in a must-win game against a beatable Everton outfit. As for City, it was another strong display and they are sure to march to the title in the coming weeks. Not bad for a team that was only founded in 2008.
Man of the match
Badou Ndiaye - In a stark contrast to last week, there was plenty of standout performers in a much improved display. Joe Allen was excellent once again and Shaqiri had the beating of Zinchenko for most of the game, with some piercing runs.
Moritz Bauer was much redeemed by keeping Leroy Sane quiet for the entire game and still managing to provide some great supporting runs in attack.
Jese had a very good display in what was a very difficult game to play as a lone striker against this back line. He struggled to build too much but got used to holding the ball up for his team mates and keeping possession with some smart dribbles.
The award goes to Ndiaye for that impossible recovery against a player who has already bagged himself 20 goals this season. Ndiaye’s performance was on par with Allen - which is saying a lot - making for an excellent midfield three with Geoff Cameron in support.