Stoke individual errors undo fine effort in loss to champions-elect Chelsea
Stoke were the architects of their own downfall as they undid an otherwise impressive defensive effort by gifting Chelsea both of their goals in a 2-1 loss at the bet635 Stadium on Saturday. It was a game in which they were happy to surrender possession and defend manfully but Lee Grant was soon kicking himself having let in a soft free kick at his near post in the opening stages.
Shortly afterwards, the Potters had the ball in the back of the net themselves but Bruno Martins Indi's effort was ruled out for a foul in the build-up. A penalty would follow, which Jon Walters duly dispatched, but as their only effort on target all game the focus was on their ability to relentlessly defend for the rest of the game to claim a point; which they failed to do.
It was another promising defensive display undone only by a couple of individual errors and the side can be proud that they came within touching distance of slowing down the juggernaut that is Chelsea's title bid.
For all their defensive ability, the side were found wanting when moving up the pitch. There was barely any invention down the sides or through the middle, which as a result placed an onus on absolute discipline and concentration, which rarely ends well.
Manager rating out of 10
7 -- Mark Hughes might have picked his strongest available side but he's gone from taking the game to his opponents to instead trying to contain them. Perhaps the biggest problem is, while the new 4-4-2 shape looks more balanced, the side is missing any creativity in the middle to feed the two strikers.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating):
GK Lee Grant, 6 -- Was at fault for the visitors' opener and could perhaps have done better with the winner, but offset those (and other) errors with a number of important saves, most notably from Marcos Alonso and Pedro.
DF Phil Bardsley, 5 -- Had plenty of determination and desire but showed poor discipline with a number of unnecessary fouls that culminated in his eventual dismissal.
DF Ryan Shawcross, 8 -- Always enjoys a physical battle against Diego Costa and came out on top against the pantomime villain on the day. Looks much happier when it's backs to the wall defending.
DF Bruno Martins Indi, 9 -- A man-of-the-match performance from the unflappable Dutchman. Was brilliant positionally to intercept a number of through-balls and misplaced just one pass all afternoon.
DF Erik Pieters, 6 -- Was coping admirably with the threat down Chelsea's right but his delivery from wide was again lacking. Sadly, his afternoon was ruined by two errors at the end that gifted the visitors all three points.
MF Marko Arnautovic, 7 -- Spent much of the game tracking Alonso; showed good pace to get up and down the pitch. Found it difficult to affect the game on the front foot with little support available around his less-preferred position on the right.
MF Joe Allen, 8 -- His best showing in a Stoke shirt as a defensive midfielder; tracking his man tirelessly while still moving the ball forward. Boundless energy and enthusiasm from a player crucial to the past two impressive defensive performances.
MF Geoff Cameron, 8 -- Complemented Allen well in the middle and made his mark by topping the tackling charts with eight. An important player on the day but one whose passing continues to let him down with far too many poorly executed or badly chosen.
MF Ramadan Sobhi, 6 -- Had one or two moments around the penalty area but was otherwise disappointing. He needs to perhaps ignore some of the hype around his recent performances and keep his game simple instead of trying to impress and overplay in dangerous areas.
FW Saido Berahino, 5 -- Showed decent pace by matching David Luiz in a foot race early on but didn't get into the game at all before tiring and being substituted on the hour mark.
FW Jon Walters, 6 -- Very much "won" the penalty his side were awarded and kept his nerve to slam home the equaliser. Sadly, that was extent of his influence in a contest he struggled to impact in the absence of any decent passes into the final third.
MF Mame Diouf, 6 -- Helped his side out defensively by using his pace and strength to challenge for the ball through the middle. Tried his best to help move the ball forward but to little avail on the rare moments he found himself in a position to attack.
MF Peter Crouch, NR -- Thrown on in added time as an aerial focal point but failed to get a touch of the ball.
James Whittaker is ESPN FC's Stoke blogger. Follow him on Twitter: @northstokie