Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Who expected 0-0? Stoke City vs the Mighty.



Where do fish and plates come from now? 

I considered driving to Stoke and parking as near as I could to the Britannia and watching the game on my phone. I then thought this would probably class as mental ill health. So, instead, I've been sensible. 

I've driven 85.5 miles round the Lancaster one way system. In the final few laps, I utilised a post industrial diorama I'd made from old cereal boxes, consisting of dated high rises, streets of terraces and the squat remains of the ceramic industries kilns represented by upturned Muller Lite pots.

By gluing this to my bonnet, I was able to get the impression of arriving in Stoke, a feeling I further enhanced by leaving my car in the coldest, greyest windiest car park I could find and walking through the squalls of rain back home. Once there, I frisked myself before squeezing through the front door, but not before role playing a minor panic about where my tickets were. (in my pocket where I'd put them, as always)  

I then waited by the fridge door for 10 minutes before allowing myself a very cold, particularly low quality can of Carling and took my seat on the couch to muse about how Stoke is really like 5 Chorleys stuck together to make a big place that's a bit like a huge inland Fleetwood, before the more vocal element of the support get here. I muse that Stoke used to make the plates upon which Codwood's fish once sat and then snap myself out of a reverie on decline, decay, alienation and despair. Cos it's Saturday innit. Save that shit for another day.

I think instead about how Graham Potter should manage them just for the craic and I can't think of anyone nominatively suited to manage us apart from Matt Bloomfield of Wycombe. That doesn't inspire me much so I stop trying to think of ex players called Dave Seagull, Billy Seaside or Kevin OnlysurvivingfirstgenerationtramwayintheUK and move on. 

I've positioned my better half in the front room to shout 'fuck's sake Blackpool' and 'you're havin' a laugh Madine' at random intervals and asked the boy to go upstairs and shout 'No 1... Chris Maxwell' 'No 3... James Husband' down the hoover tube so I can cheer their names in a manner that seems to have gone out of fashion but I'm determined to reintroduce into football. 

It's here and it's real and I'm fucking ready for it. Bring it on. 

Except it's only the Carabao Cup. Even though I'm generally a fierce defender of tradition and am still bemoaning the end of unlimited replays in the FA Cup and grieving the death of the precarious excitement of the knockout European competitions, I find really hard to understand how the Carabao cup still exists. It's a competition which even the winners seem to forget they've won about 2 weeks later and whose final always surprises me by lurking in March and then jumping out of the fixture schedules and making me go 'oh, I'm going out tomorrow and I don't care whether Man City or Chelsea win it again anyway'. I can't remember the last league cup game I was interested in. 

I also wonder sometimes when I'm alone on a starry night, by a river, with just the sound of water and the hum of the universe for company... 'Why can you only buy Carabao energy drink in Home Bargains?'

But fear not reader. I have the antidote to such apathetic cynicism right here. Like Maxim Reality from off of the Prodigy I possess both the poison and the remedy. It's a 2 part treatment.

1) Our death or glory football is more obviously suited to cup football than anything I've seen for ages. We've got loads of players who can score and no one will want a draw in a game like this, so there's a perfect incentive to just go total attack and try and get one more than them. I haven't really followed Stoke so I imagine they still have loads of massive ugly defenders who can't turn around very quickly, so we'll definitely batter them. 

2) Even though we've only signed one player from Wiltshire, it is oft mooted that we're really Swindon in disguise. We're obviously not, but it would be class if we went on and did the only thing Swindon are remembered for aside from dodgy finances in the late 80s and being spectacularly shit in one season in the Premier League. If we win the league cup as a third tier side, that would be fucking mint. 

So, now I'm really ready, after months of thinking about existential stuff, the survival of the game as we know it, death and economies and all that shite. We've got over excited about some (albeit mostly decent) kickabouts and now we're going to play Stoke City in an empty ground. It's for an immediate prize of 5 grand, but really, it's a first step on a road to Wembley and another mark to sit alongside our many previous ones in the Big Book of Football Myth and Legend. 

----

My carefully constructed illusion of reality is shattered by 5 minutes of iFollow faffing before I can see a thing. I tell myself the lad has chosen a ridiculous moment to go to the toilet or something. 

Then, finally, we're in and immediately CJ Hamilton with a crisp low shot is the first sight, warming the tangerine heart by looking every inch the player he seemed in preseason. 

What I see of the opening battles looks cagey, Keshi Anderson makes the only mistake over elaborating and letting Jordan Thompson steal it before scything him down from behind. Unsurprisingly Thompson hits the turf hard, but to be fair, Anderson is very lucky not to see a card. 

Yates has the next moment, but wants too many touches to bring the ball down and turn and the moment is gone. 

We look composed and quite creative in comparison to Stoke, who are keen to exploit the pace of Afobe and Mclean but don't seem to be especially adventurous in finding those two.  

Then a moment which, were I at the game would probably have been astonishing drama, football on the telly happens but you don't feel it the same - Initially Ekpiteta does well to beat Afobe to the ball but his touch is loose. Afobe steals it and hares wide, Maxell dives to cut out the cross but Turton has the same idea and the ball pops up from a combination of both and drops to a Stoke forward... but a stunning sliding challenge from Big Marvin, who appears from nowhere, saves the day. 

Yates runs at the defence but then leaves it for Keshi who pops a fairly tame shot at goal. Minutes later, a lovely 5 or 6 pass move where we slice our way down the pitch in neat, quick triangles sees KaiKai tamely end the move in a similar fashion. 

A swinging free kick from the right hand side of the penalty box almost finds Nottingham at the far post. He slides in and collides with the post, just after after colliding with Maxwell at the other end. 

Anderson has a divine run down left flank which doesn't quite come to anything. Kaikai puts a simply beautiful cross from the byline but the arriving CJ Hamilton gets under it and loops it on to the roof of the net.  

Yates intelligence as a centre forward is apparent in his link play. He slips KaiKai through, into acres of space on the left flank. Sullay again weighs a gorgeous ball that causes complete chaos with Stoke eventually getting the ball half away. It balloons to Yates on the penalty spot, too deep to convincingly try at goal so he nods to Hamilton who is unlucky to see his downward header hit a Stoke defender.

Last five minutes, and loose passing from both Yates and Anderson lead to Stoke efforts. They have the best of the end of the half including one moment where a Stoke forward leaves Marvin for dead but wastes the chance to play a pass that would surely have led to a goal.  

----

Half time and the defence has done ok, if at times looking out muscled and out paced by the clearly dangerous Afobe. The midfield has used the ball well in the main, but we've not quite summoned the blitzkrieg of attack we saw against Everton, though this is an organised if thus uninspired opposition from a higher level. 

---- 

Maxwell has been great with the ball at his feet but he starts the half by playing Ekpiteta into trouble. The big man does really well, shielding the ball and finding Yates via Robson. The striker spins and sees Hamilton 1 on 1 with his man. The body and brain don't follow each other as he drops the pass about 15 yards too short. Moments laters, Yates, frustrated, goes through the back of Thompson who seems like a man with a target on his back, but again, there's no yellow. 

Nottingham cuts out a dangerous cross as Stoke maraude down the left. They seem a bit more like you'd expect from a Championship side with their resources this half. 

A lovely spell of passing finishes with Kaikai having come to the centre, and running at the heart of the Stoke defence. He's tripped as it looks like he's about to glide past the lot in that way that makes him look for a few seconds, the greatest player in the world. 

Then there's a weird move where Hamilton stumbles and seems to cede possession but Stoke are lazy in taking advantage. We steal it back without ever really losing it and Kaikai is going through on the left but hitting a wall of Stoke bodies. He's lays it back for a deep cross which Ward heads over despite minimal pressure. 

Michael Nottingham does fantastically twice in a few minutes, first saving Ward's blushes when an errant layback ends up setting Afobe free, but fortunately Stoke's star man decides to take Nottingham on for pace rather than strength. Then it's Nottingham who dives in to cut out probably Stoke's best move so far, a cut back cross seemingly made for an cavalry charge of Stoke forwards to bury. 

Keshi, robs possession, careering into aStoke player like a bumper car at a fairground  and Pool have two minutes of dominance. This features a through ball to die for from KaiKai, more good work from Anderson and passing glaore but for all the lovely build up of a move that ebbs and flows, dies and comes back again, there's no real moment of danger. I've said before that Critch's team reminds me of Macca's team and that was pure 2002, pass after pass after pass but not quite unlocking the door.

Maxwell is very alert to charge down a Stoke man on the chase for a long ball and put him off his stride.  Stoke then really should score as a looping clip forward finds James Chester about 8 yards out but he mercifully nods tamely over despite having been left to his own devices by Nottingham. 

Stoke bring on Steven Fletcher, who I'm delighted to see now looks like a man who drinks spirits from a paper bag. I'm expecting to see his toes popping out of his boots and him trying to cadge a roll up from the centre backs. More footballers should eschew the beauty treatment. It gives them character. Fletcher makes a difference as he gives the defence more to think about and what he does, he does pretty well. 

He's almost immediately setting up a goal with a one touch through ball that sees a Stoke forward completely outpace Ekpiteta, leaving Husband diving in desperately for what is either a brilliant tackle or an extremely lucky escape from what seemed a very reasonable shout for a spot kick. 

Nottingham's afternoon in the trenches gets worse and this time he can't continue. Jordan Thorniley comes on whilst Virtue replaces Ward. 

Virtue is in quickly adding a little more bite to the midfield, stealing possession and starting a move which sees Hamilton cross beautifully again but no one claims it. Virtue does ok in the midfield and his willingness to burst forward in the box is notable, if frustratingly not noted by the rest of the team on one cross where Yates tries to put his name on it, taking it from Virtue who is better positioned. 

Robson plays another dangerous cross from a free kick but Husband can't quite climb above Steven Fletcher at the far post. 

Stoke respond with a couple of moves of their own; a cross that evades everyone and one moment of defensive ping pong where no one can convincingly clear it and Maxwell has to neatly hang on to a drilled near post effort.  

8 or 9 minutes go by scrappily, Yates is replaced by Sarkic in a move that rather suggests Critch doesn't fancy the goal machine. 

Robson delivers a corner that hangs like a drone tempting visions of a bullet header but skims off a stoke head instead. 

Then in the dying embers of extra time, the flame of hope flickers in the form of two corners in quick succession 

They're both decent and hang in the area, from first Robson and then Sarkic. Stoke stand firm. Our delivery has been been pretty good and I do genuinely hate to say this, but what I wouldn't have given for a 20 minute Armand cameo given the angles of attack in the last portion of the match. 

So it's pens...

There are sadly no panenkas to report. Stoke's keeper looks massive compared to Maxwell but we're neck and neck through 7 penalties. Sarkic is unlucky with a low shot well saved. Anderson does great stutter, looking very confident and finds power but the keeper is equal to it. Jordan Thompson is amongst the Stoke failures and every Pool player that steps up aside from Robson I'm convinced will miss, but eventually it's Ollie Turton blasting wide that brings the game to a close and defeat to the Mighty.

There's a nice moment at the end where Critch clearly can be seen saying 'these things happen' to our Ollie. 

It's only the Carabao Cup. A trophy that never really ever had glory days outside of when there was no European football. It's sponsored by a knockoff Red Bull that you can only buy in the shit shop that sponsors Horwich.

It's beneath us. It would be quite undignified to have to put such a tacky competition on our honours list. 

----

When all is said and done, we've more than matched a Championship side with some decent players. We never quite clicked into the clinical form we showed at times in preseason and for the first time, I felt that possibly we lacked a real presence in the centre of attack.

I was very impressed with Ethan Robson today and thought he looks years older than he really is and more experienced than he has any right to be. 

In Ekpiteta (strong as fuck but not very fast) and Nottingham (fast but gets knocked over) we've got a perfect centre half if only we can splice them together. Maybe Jamie Devitt could be experimented on if he's not going to do owt else for the rest of the year? For all the fears of defensive calamity we did OK at the back today and particularly later on, Stoke had some decent firepower on the pitch. 

It was a frustrating game, we played really well at times but didn't really carve out that many clear cut efforts. It mostly showed us was what we already know in terms of individuals. We're good enough to match Stoke, to trouble them and play the better football. We possess some very, very good players and in aesthetic terms, we've come an absolute mile, but we're not the finished article. Of course we aren't.

Critch has had 3 proper games.

We're just getting started. 

UTMP


Death today, but glory tomorrow



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