Stoke (A) 12/05/13 - Match Report & Reaction

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So, after Chelsea's mid-season goal reassessment confined them to having a 'good season' (apparently) after securing one of the remaining two Champions League places, we found ourselves having to travel to the home of football and bring back 3 points. For some reason I never seem fazed about traveling away to Stoke. It's one of the few grounds I usually feel confident traveling to. This partly falls down to the fact that they themselves are still learning the art of actually playing the game itself.

Shifting Vertonghen out to left back gave us plenty of aerial prowess in which to try and match Stoke in the air. 3 centre backs on the pitch, nothing would go wrong. Well, until Adam sent in a ball for N'Zonzi to nod in barely before the PA announcer had finished reeling out the team-sheets. We'd had a patch this season when we looked comfortable defending set pieces but, of late, have looked immensely vulnerable. It was Chelsea away all over again. We'd started the first half as stagnated as we had at Stamford Bridge. I thought it was arguably the fluidity of Chelsea that made us look like statue's but the first half at Stoke took any gloss off of that argument. With Parker and Huddlestone starting together for successive games, I felt we were trying to match Stoke too much instead of stamping our own game upon them. Adebayor was once more having to work between the lines, desperately trying to pull some life from us. That being one sentence I never thought I'd write this year.

Still, we slowly grew into the game. Parker for me giving us glimpses of last season. I've been his biggest critic this year, but he worked the ball well and kept it moving instead of seeking to slow our game down. His distribution also proved far more judicious as he played a beautifully weighted Huddlestone-esque ball on to the path of Aaron Lennon which was cut out by Wilson and fell to the feet of Clint Dempsey. The American has had a satisfying trait of popping up in the right places at the right time for us this year and knocked in some big goals. He took this one fantastically, lofting it into an empty net.

The second half proved more of a Spurs story. Our movement was far more fluid and we managed to keep the ball, and our heads. Charlie Adam's rash attempt to leave another player in hospital was punished early and this altered the game slightly for Stoke as they remained content to stay compact in front of their own 18. Avoiding defeat would be celebrated like a win. We've definitely worked to break down stubborn sides this year and I had a feeling this would be another result of this great work. Stoke pressured and pressed but were fearful to set foot in our half. We remained patient. I was content with patient, I could see many getting agitated that we didn't seem to want to shoot when we sat on the edge of Stoke's penalty area, but I felt we'd get one big chance and hoped we'd take it. Whereas Stoke used their heads physically, we used ours mentally. That big chance came and we snatched it. Dempsey in the right place and the right time once more finding Adebayor almost on the goal line to tap in.

Clint Dempsey was again the unsung hero of the day for me. Despite probably close to his twilight years, I am a big fan of the American. He's not a typical forward or even number 10, but he gives us that intelligence in the final third when you need it the most. Parker and Adebayor played out of their skin. If only these two had performed like this for the larger-part of the season. Of course, it's that "if's and but's" time of the season again. We wanted to take it to the final day, all we can do is win our games and hope. Inevitably, it will probably be the hope that kills us.

It irritates me when I see the same comments regarding the games in which we've dropped points in. Believe it or not, but no side in the top 4 defeats every single opponent below them. It's football. No side took 6 points off of us this year. What right did we have to take 4 points from United and 3 from City? Our rivals experienced similar surprising defeats on the Champions League path this year. Fulham was a big one. Although, even they hadn't won at Spurs for so long that they were almost due one at some point. We'll never get through a perfect season and very rarely will we have a fairytale end, but it makes it all the more sweeter when we do.

For a side that was still is largely in transition, 'unexpected' defeats were always going to fall in our path. We'll learn and grow from them. We've matched our record number of points in the PL at this stage of the season and have 10 away wins in the Premier League for the first time ever. This is all under a manager that, previous to this, had only a handful of years at the top. The disappointing draws at home to West Brom and Norwich seem a lifetime ago. Our influx of new recruits look settled in their roles and, best of all, we all finally seem behind Andre Villas-Boas.

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