Mark Hughes' selection leads to a difficult afternoon for Stoke
Stoke managed to escape South Yorkshire with their name in the hat for the fourth round of the FA Cup after a nervy 2-1 win over Doncaster Rovers of League One.
That it was far from a routine victory for the Potters was, in part, down to the nine changes made by manager Mark Hughes, but perhaps more due to the approach of the manager.
Whether or not this was a dry run for the aerially-suspect Liverpool in the second leg of the Capital One Cup semifinal is yet to be seen, but the sight of long balls arrowing through the air towards Peter Crouch and Jon Walters is a sight best left in the past.
Having developed an entirely more pleasing and entertaining way of playing football in the last two years, Hughes' players clearly struggled with the more rudimentary tactics they were asked to implement.
However, once Crouch was withdrawn on the hour, the players managed to compose themselves with the kind of football that sees them currently sitting nicely in the top half of the Premier League.
THE BEST OF ESPN FC
- Bell: Liverpool fans make themselves heard
- Cox: Leicester improving | Why Poch should stay
- Okwonga: Man United's market | City's title hopes
- Laurens: PSG's pre-UCL issues | Hertha's curse
- Highlights (U.S. only): Stuttgart 1-3 BVB
- FC TV: Champions League W2W4 | LVG wrong
- News | Transfer | Toe Poke | Fantasy | FC TV | Podcast | MLS
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Jakob Haugaard, 8 -- An impressive game for the Dane, who coped well on his full debut for the club. Showed safe hands for the most part and quickly launched attacks with accurate throws out to the wing.
DF Phil Bardsley, 6 -- Would have fared better had he been allowed to do anything other than launch long balls forward. His lack of game time was evident, as shown when he reacted slowly to the hosts' goal.
DF Ryan Shawcross, 7 -- Not really afforded an opportunity to impress and was kept busy marshalling a makeshift back line.
DF Philipp Wollscheid, 6 -- Not a great game from the German, who got more involved than he should have in a number of spats on and off the field, which affected the rest of his play.
DF Marc Wilson, 8 -- Recovered from an early misplaced pass to be Stoke's best player. Showed more determination and passion than most of his teammates and was more than willing to take the responsibility of possession.
MF Marco van Ginkel, 6 -- Unable to showcase his talents because of the chosen approach to getting the ball into the final third, but still did little to convince Hughes that he is worthy of a first-team spot.
MF Charlie Adam, 7 -- Drove forward with the ball but his passing was inconsistent. Managed to create a few chances but his defending for Doncaster's goal was non-existent. Adam struggles to show he's a viable option in that area of the pitch.
FW Jon Walters, 8 -- Worked hard and was perhaps back in his comfort zone in a more aerial contest. Took his goal brilliantly and remains an important squad player.
FW Joselu, 7 -- Showed good strength and composure to set up Crouch for the opener but, afterwards, found himself wandering around the attacking positions without making much more of an impact.
FW Mame Diouf, 6 -- Shunted out to an entirely unfamiliar position on the left wing, he unsurprisingly struggled to have any kind of influence in the final third as a result. Unfairly exposed at a time when a game in his favoured central position would have done his confidence -- and season -- more good.
FW Peter Crouch, 7 -- The game plan seemed to be built entirely around his aerial abilities but it was to the detriment of the other players on the pitch. Took his goal well but arguably didn't deserve to start ahead of others, who were shuffled elsewhere on the pitch to accommodate him.
DF Glen Johnson, 6 -- Replaced the injured Bardsley and brought more composure to the back line. A bit too complacent at times in dangerous areas.
MF Glenn Whelan, 7 -- Brought some much needed defensive discipline to the midfield. His introduction saw the removal of Crouch and the opportunity to get the ball down in the middle third.
MF Steve Sidwell, N/R -- Brought on to help with the late opposition onslaught.
James Whittaker is a freelance football writer based in Leeds. Follow on Twitter: @northstokie