Geoff Cameron, who was playing as Ryan Shawcross’ centre back partner, was the guilty man as Mark Hughes opted to drop Philipp Wollscheid to the bench. It was the American’s tackle, which on another day could have resulted in no foul being given, that gave Defoe the penalty which he converted.
Hughes tactically spot on
Mark Hughes selected Peter Crouch as the sole striker ahead of Joselu and Charlie Adam got his first start since his calf strain injury.
This ploy was used by Hughes to make Stoke more direct. Indeed, having Crouch in any side ultimately results in a more direct style of play, and against Sunderland, Hughes probably made the right call. In the previous three matches the Potters had been guilty of over playing the ball and lacking potency as a result of this.
Against the Black Cats, there can be no argument that this is the case. With Adam playing the ‘Number ten’ role behind Crouch as well as Xherdan Shaqiri and Phil Bardsley playing on the right hand side, Stoke were certainly more direct in attack. Diagonal balls were pinged into Crouch who was then able to head the ball into the path of the oncoming runners from wide positions.
It was from such a ball that Stoke took a deserved lead. This time Adam fired the ball into Crouch. The Stoke striker headed the ball down, out-jumping Younes Kaboul in the process. The knockdown found Stoke’s lethal left winger Marko Arnautovic who fired the ball past Vito Mannone.
King Marko scores again
This goal, the Austrian’s 11th of the season levelling the record for the amount by a Stoke player in a Premier League season, once again proved his worth to the Potters. It remains to be seen where City would be without his goals this term. One thing is for sure, they wouldn’t be tenth in the league. It displays the need for Stoke to come to some arrangement regarding his ongoing contract negotiations.
Elusive clean sheet evades Potters
Having conceded 12 goals in their previous three matches, Mark Hughes opted for a change at the back, bringing Cameron in to centre back with Shawcross. Marc Muniesa dropped to the bench as Erik Pieters came in to add some much needed solidarity to the back four.
It seems trivial to say, however, had the Black Cats not been awarded their penalty, Sunderland would not have scored had they played for another seven days straight. This was both in part to the sturdiness that Pieters and Cameron give to the Potters as much Sunderland were poor going forward.
More than meets the eye with Erik
Pieters offers much more than a solid defence. His marauding, overlapping runs down the left hand flank, linking well with Arnautovic, means Stoke counter attack at pace, thus allowing the Potters to play themselves out of trouble. The same can be said of Phil Bardsley and Xherdan Shaqiri down the right hand flank.
Shaqiri vital for Stoke
The latter’s impact too, starting for the first time since injury forced him out against Manchester City, is worth noting, even if some supporters fail to see his impact. Just by being on the pitch the Alpine Messi attracts defenders and thus prevents them from doubling up on Arnautovic. This in turn means that the Potters are able to offer threats down both flanks instead of being restricted to attacks solely down the left.
No, he may not have lit up the Premier League as some people may have expected, but the Swiss international is certainly worth persevering with and offers a threat down the right hand side by using his immense pace to bypass defenders alongside strong ball carrying skills.
It was a cruel decision to award Sunderland the penalty that effectively gave them a point. It appeared that Defoe had in fact tripped over the ball. Yes, there was contact by the American, but Defoe certainly made the most of it.
Cameron can feel a little aggrieved by the decision, however it is a vital point for Sunderland who were in desperate need of a result considering that Newcastle were in the process of acquiring a victory at home to Crystal Palace.
Despite picking up point, the Black Cats find themselves in the relegation zone and it still remains a mystery as to who will be relegated.
For Stoke, whose season ended a matter of weeks ago, all that remains is to play for pride as they find themselves meandering towards the summer.
Overhauling last season’s points total is now impossible, but the players could still match it. This probably remains their final aim with two games left. One thing is for sure, Hughes needs to delve into the transfer market this summer and buy a striker if Stoke are to continue to evolve under his leadership.