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Monday, 26 September 2011

Stoke love them or hate them, they are an effective unit

When I was in my very early teen years, I played for a team, Doddinghurst Olympics, who were by far the best footballing team in our area at that time. We passed the ball around, kept the ball on the ground as much as possible and we were privileged to have a great amount of speed throughout the team. We never really won anything though, however we were always extremely close season after season. But the area we struggled the most was in the height and strength department. Whether it was something in the water from my village or what, we were never ever the biggest team and 99 times out a 100 we were the smallest team on the pitch. Often this didn't make a difference, until we were put up against a tough tackling, strong, tall team and we always let things slip. These teams that always had the upper hand against us are the Stoke City of our local leagues.

Stoke City have been built since winning promotion to the Premier League on being a tough tackling, strong, tall unit of players, from the back 4 throughout to the forwards. These tactics include playing the long ball and of course those long throws. Tony Pulis has been the pinnacle of this creation and by employing these tactics he has turned Stoke City into a solidified Premier League club, something all promoted teams aim to do. But do you agree with the way they play the game? This is a big question on so many people's lips and it often divides opinion down the middle. On one side, are they playing outside the rules of the game? No. Is this football you would teach your kids to play? No.

There have been times where Stoke have taken this aggressive game playing too far, and none other than the Ryan Shawcross tackle on Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey (as seen above). Ramsey was out for almost a year with a broken leg following this shocking challenge. This is the risk of Stoke's aggressive tactics. We are not talking about bumps and bruises, but about players careers and livelihoods. However, what are the referees doing to clamp down on this? Are they handing out the correct punishments? Are Stoke the only team to deploy these tactics? Well, again there are many divided views on this, but Blackburn Rovers and Bolton under Sam Alladyce were criticised heavily for this in the past. Referees are giving out warranted yellow and red cards for bad tackles by any players in the game. My view on their aggressive nature is that as long as we don't see a repeat of tackles like that on Aaron Ramsey, then as long as they keep inside the rules of the game then why can't they play that way. As a fan, that can get quite exciting watching tough challenging games with a bit of an aggressive nature.

This is my main problem with Stokes tactics and my problem does not just sit with the football club, but also with the officials. The time taken setting up for a long throw is ridiculous. If a normal player stood on the touch line with the ball behind his back for the same amount of time as Rory Delap takes for a throw on, the official would give the player a yellow card for time wasting. I have no doubt about this. But why are they not cracking down on this? It seems so obvious to everybody watching it, but it hasn't seemed to have warranted a discussion by the referee's board. This is something I feel very strongly about. Spectators don't pay their money to watch one play dry a ball with a towel and his shirt for 10 - 15 seconds, walk about and steady himself for another 10-15 seconds, before eventually throwing the ball into the box. You are taking so much time out of game this way.

As regards Mr Pulis and his long throw tactics, would he teach his kids to play football this way? No chance. It is not a good advert for the game of football for children to emulate in my opinion. Also, Rory Delap, a Premier League first team player? I would love to hear the honest truth that if he did not have this consistently incredible long throw, would he be anywhere near the Stoke City starting line up? I believe not.

Until the referee's start cutting down the time it takes Stoke to take long throws, then they will continue to use the extra height in their team to their advantage. With the addition of Peter Crouch to their ranks and their incredibly big back 4, I am certain Tony Pulis will continue to play the game this way. I just hope he can control the aggression of his players so that it doesn't boil over to anymore incidents like what we saw in the Aaron Ramsey case.

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