Stoke managed to plumb new depths of ineptitude with a performance that looked like it belonged in preseason rather than the second game of their latest Premier League campaign as they scraped a 1-1 draw against 10-man Hull City.
While a point on the board is a welcome sight, almost everything that preceded it was anything but in one of the side's worst showings under Mark Hughes. Much was expected from the team following such a dire showing in their opening fixture, and despite this game yielding a point, the fact that lessons hadn't been learned from that earlier game is as worrying as it is frustrating. That same lack of urgency was alarmingly apparent as the side ambled around the pitch seemingly unaware that they were part of a contest with points at stake.
- Hughes: We can do better
Many of those lucky enough to pull on the red and white simply looked like they were not ready for a game; I lost count of the number of unforced errors that took on an unwelcome comedic value. Normally it's one or two players who have a bad game, but there were far too many not at the races, which is more than a little concerning at this crucial, early stage of the season.
That so many are off colour leads me to conclude that the issues are related to their training and conditioning behind the scenes. Hughes' methods in that respect are well documented and the insistence that his sides always get stronger as the months go on appears to hold weight, but with so many points on offer in the early part of the season I'm not sure the league will wait until his players are better able to compete.
The parallels between this season and last are clear, but while that side scrapped its way to a win or two early on, as things stand this term's incarnation look unconvincing and unable to follow suit. That resilience and tenacity need to make a reappearance to help bridge any gaps in match fitness and sharpness and the resulting reaction from the crowd will hopefully get the adrenaline going and the tempo raised.
I wrote last week that no one seemed to want the responsibility of possession or having to make a decision and that was something that was visibly noticeable against Hull too. The midfield two have a crucial role to control the tempo of the play and once again they were derelict in their duties, turning their back on the defence and remaining static for the most part.
The lack of players willing and able to carry the ball was frustrating, especially when on the rare occasions it did happen those who seized the initiative were able to walk through the 10 men of the opposition with relative ease. Instead that urgency was left to the subs, namely Bojan Krkic and Charlie Adam, who came in and dragged the side up the pitch.
Chances to do that though were few and far between as despite the quick and agile options of Peter Odemwingie, Bojan and Mame Diouf being available, as soon as Peter Crouch came on the inevitable happened and they were bypassed in favour of futile long balls up to the big man.
For the second week running I had a lot of sympathy for Diouf, who struggled to get into the game and was let down by a poor touch or decision when the ball managed to find its way to him. He has all the attributes needed to be successful, as do the rest of the starting 11, but they need to work as a whole and that urgency needs to flow down from the manager, who has his work cut out this week.
It's hard to find any positives from the past fortnight, but I remain hopeful that the group of players available are more than capable of beating any team in the league and it's only a matter of time before that starts happening.
The starting 11 don't necessarily need to change, but their attitude and application do if they are to arrest this early-season slump sooner rather than later and remind fans exactly why their expectations are so high this season.