‘I’m not one to jump on the bandwagon, but after watching that, it’s hard to feel sorry for them…’
Those were the wise words of a fellow River-Ender as we discussed the virtues of Tony Pulis’ Stoke following the final blast of Andre Marriner’s whistle yesterday – and I couldn’t agree more.
There is little to add to the Stoke/Pulis debate that hasn’t already been said. By playing in their own unique style, they have now enjoyed Premiership football since 2008 and are regarded as ‘regulars’ in the top flight. They are undoubtedly wealthier than they have ever been in their history and play to a full-house at virtually every home game.
All well and good, and there’s no doubt that on paper their record over the last four seasons speaks for itself. Except football isn’t played on paper – it’s played on grass. Or at least it should be.
The bit that seems to be missing from the Stoke model is that football is an entertainment industry and we, the fans, pay handsomely for the privilege of watching these highly skilled sportsman at work.
So, do the Stoke fans consider the football they watch every week as ‘entertainment’?
A cursory glance at their message boards suggests that some of them are now starting to question the Pulis philosophy or ‘hoofball’ as they refer to it. I guess it’s a case of living with it while the going is good, but affording their leader only limited amounts of slack when the goods are not being produced.
Having said all that, it is rather easy to get overly precious about the rights and wrongs of your team playing the Barcelona way. In fact, at the back end of last season, there was an argument that the pass, pass, pass style of the Catalonians was becoming boring. Whilst I didn’t wholly agree, it was a theory that had more than a little support.
Indeed, when the 2011/12 end-of-season Premiership data was produced, it was Paul Lambert’s Norwich that were shown to have hit the most long balls. A surprising stat, but one that raised questions about their definition of ‘long-ball’, rather than one that accurately reflected City’s playing style.
So whilst it’s not good to get too snobbish about it, the Stoke match most definitely didn’t fit in with Pele’s vision of the beautiful game.
Contrast yesterday’s battle of attrition to the previous two home wins, against Arsenal and Tottenham, and you’ll struggle to find many similarities.
For a match that displayed the same characteristics as yesterday we probably need to cast our minds back just over a year, to the visit of… Stoke. A not dissimilar type of game with the only difference being that last season Stoke’s one opportunity fell to the head of Kenwyne Jones as opposed to his right foot.
The full-on, post-match rant from the lovable Mr Pulis will have done little to convince those watching that City were undeserving of the three points. If we are to believe the Stoke ‘chav’ (hats off to the wag in the Snake Pit who dreamt that one up) played most of the game ‘As if they were the home team…’.
If playing like the home team means launching the ball into orbit in the hope of it landing in the vicinity of Peter Crouch, then I guess he’s right.
Or perhaps ‘playing like the home team’ means stifling the life out of any skilful players you have at your disposal and asking them instead to go from back-to-front in one hoof. Again, if that’s his definition, he’s right.
In reality it was difficult to agree with any part of the aforementioned rant, other than his take on diving and the increasing part it plays in the modern game. However, even this was diluted as he seemed to overlook the propensity of his own players to indulge in a touch of the Tom Daleys.
Double standards and sour grapes is a combination wholly unbecoming of a Premiership manager.
To most spectators, the win was a deserved one, even if the second-half did resemble the Alamo at times. As Chris Hughton so eloquently – and politely – put it, ‘Stoke have their own way of playing and you have to be prepared for that’.
Even injuries to two of the back-four – Turner and Garrido – failed to disrupt the resolute defending that, for the closing minutes, had to combat the triple aerial threat of Crouch, Jones and Ryan Shawcross.
Credit due all round and further evidence that the Hughton Norwich is slowly emerging from the Lambert version he inherited back in May.
As always, the Snake Pit and Barclay summed it up perfectly…
‘One-nil to the football team’.