Stoke need to improve away from the Britannia
No team in the Premier League this season has a poorer away record than Stoke City. One win and two draws from nine games away from the Britannia Stadium makes for sorry reading. Especially when you compare it to four wins and four draws from nine matches at home. The Potters really struggle when they are tasked with playing away from their own ground.
December 27th, 2013
Against Newcastle they shipped five goals on a torturous Boxing Day for the club and has come at the end of a dismal run of away form. On five of their last seven trips away from the Britannia, Mark Hughes has seen his team concede at least three goals. They are a far cry from the disciplined, hard-working, battling unit that Tony Pulis produced at the club.
There will be fans, rightfully, calling for Stoke to get their act together. The club have never been strong away from home. In their first Premier League season in 2008/09, they avoided defeat in just six of their away trips; winning just two. Away wins have been rare for the club but it will be the manner of the defeats of late that will concern fans.
Stoke are not forcing teams to grind out home victories anymore. They are not making life difficult for their opponents and leaving grounds heartened by a narrow defeat. The longer the run of heavy defeats and big score lines continue, the harder it will be for Mark Hughes to justify his changes to the playing style at the club.
As arduous as the games were at times, Tony Pulis was able to guarantee Premier League survival year-on-year. He focused on a defensive base and played the percentages from set-pieces to earn unlikely wins. At Crystal Palace, he’s already seen the club battle to three victorious in six league games, keeping three clean sheets, including a highly impressive 1-0 at Goodison Park on Boxing Day. It isn’t pretty, but it’s effective.
For Hughes, he needs to curve the poor run away from home. Stoke are, for now, picking up enough points at home that there is clear air between them and the relegation zone. Mark Hughes’ slightly expansive style, with the team trying to see more of the ball and string possession together is working at home. They are winning games, scoring some nice goals and relying on tactics of old in tight moments.
However away from home, the expansive style has made Stoke easy to pick off. There are gaps ready to be exploited and teams are no longer being choked by the Potters closing a game down in front of their own fans. January should be an interesting time around the Britannia Stadium. Hughes didn’t make many signings when he first arrived at the club.
There wasn’t a large overhaul. He committed to working with what was left behind by Pulis, give-or-take a few. After six months, he’ll know who he wants at the club for the long term and which areas he wants to bring players more in suiting with Stoke’s new style. Or he’ll be keen for the team to retreat their narrow, restrictive style and curb the run of disappointing defeats. No amount of free buses for the fans will make up for seeing the club shipping three goals every time they are away from their own stadium.