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Mar 8, 2014

A point gained but an opportunity missed for Stoke

Mark Hughes and his team will perhaps see the 1-1 draw with Norwich as a point gained but following a first 15 minutes where the Potters could have had two if not three goals, he might also see it as an opportunity missed.

It was a great start from Stoke who seized the initiative as soon as the whistle went which, following a season of slow starts especially away from home, was a welcome sight. It didn't take long, however, for the age old issues to rear their ugly, pace-less heads. Peter Crouch and Jonathan Walters were guilty of missing two gilt-edged chances, each ending up passing to the goalkeeper instead of testing him. In between those chances, Marko Arnautovic also spurned a great opportunity having bought himself time to control the ball and compose himself with his excellent control.

The lack of pace was evident, as indeed it has been for too long now, with a number of decent balls played into good space in front of the labouring Walters that he simply couldn't get on the end of. Peter Odemwingie struggled to make an impact on the right, spending much of the afternoon tracking back and to me it made little sense to have his pace taken out of the equation when it was needed so much up front. Walters is the man to track the winger and has played that role often enough to be disciplined and relatively effective at it and given attacks down that side were almost three times less than down the opposite flank it's a change I'm surprised was never made.

Geoff Cameron certainly could have done with more help as he was teased throughout by the impressive Nathan Redmond, a two million pound steal who is good friends with Jack Butland. What might have been? The American had a poor game on the front foot and back, whether that was to do with double training sessions in the week and 90 minutes for his country I'm not sure but that flank was ruthlessly targeted as the weak link. The weakest of weak links though was reserved for Marc Wilson who never seems to make an unimportant mistake. Twice in the first half he made errors that led to shots on goal and it seemed it would only be a matter of waiting for one to arrive that would truly punish. That duly arrived as he again got too tight to a deceptively slow player who turned him, got goal side and then was hauled down. Yes, the defence should have done better in defending the free kick but Wilson's habit of making costly errors has been exactly that for Stoke this season: costly.

So many goals have come as a direct result of his poor play and while some herald his mythical passing ability he was the poorest of all outfield players on the entire pitch -- Robert Huth can't come back quick enough. As for the main talking point of the game, I personally don't think that Walters' challenge warranted a red. It was a lazy and clumsy attempt at blocking/winning the ball but there seemed to be no intent and it was really the reaction of the player, who himself got away with worse last week, that sealed the deal. It was a good penalty from Walters though before that game defining moment. I criticised him last week for poor technique with the one he scored against Arsenal but this one was perfectly executed giving the keeper no chance whatsoever.

Finally, a special word for John Guidetti who has been (not so) quietly biding his time waiting for a chance to impress. He finally got a good half an hour to make his mark and did exactly that bringing urgency and determination to the front line. It was his quick movement and thinking that won the penalty and invigorated the front line but his afternoon was to end prematurely as it was he who was substituted following Walters' red. I can only imagine the utter disappointment he felt as he trudged off only minutes after coming on. The backroom staff were quick to explain the move and he seemed to understand that the change was necessary given the shape had to be altered.

Next week sees the visit of West Ham who Stoke will take on without Walters and Adam. I'm interested to see how the side line up in their absence in a game Hughes will be looking to win, and win well. I have a sneaky feeling that it will be Guidetti who comes in behind Crouch and not Stephen Ireland. I certainly hope so and if he can impact that game as much as he did this then this impressive unbeaten run will no doubt continue.