Last season, Stoke City took the Premier League by storm; they were undoubtedly the most successful of the promoted sides as they finished the season in a respectable 12th poition, whilst West Brom were relegated and Hull finished 17th after a dismal run in the second half of the season. During this successful campaign they achieved home victories against the likes of Aston Villa, Tottenham and even Arsenal.
Stoke’s first win of last season came against Aston Villa when a Mamady Sidibe injury-time winner secured all three points. The goal came as result of a long throw, and it was at this point that the media recognised this unique tactic that Stoke were employing. Rory Delap has the ability to throw the ball huge distances at a flat angle; a throw from almost anywhere in the opposition half gave Stoke an opportunity to send their centre-backs forward and create goal-scoring opportunities. The fact that a player cannot be offside from a throw means that these set-pieces are even more dangerous than free kicks. Stoke scored a number of important goals by virtue of the long throw against sides like Arsenal and Everton.
While Stoke were praised for their ingenuity by some, football purists criticised Stoke for being too reliant on the long throw. It was argued that what they did was anti-football; it was similar to the criticism levelled at Bolton under Sam Allardyce. However much of this criticism was uncalled for, they were playing by the rules and if teams were having problems dealing with the aerial threat, then that is something that they would have to look at in their own game.
Stoke City are not a one-dimensional team; they have scored a number of goals, both last season and this, that any team would have been proud of. Ricardo Fuller’s sublime turn and finish against Villa was a sublime individual effort, whilst Liam Lawrence’s goal against Blackburn finished a neat team move. Their players are more than just giants who compete in the air; they have a speedy winger with good technique in Matthew Etherington; Glen Whelan is one of the best strikers of the ball from range in the league; and in Tuncay, Stoke possess the Turkish captain and a player who has great dribbling ability and is creative to boot.
Whereas last season Stoke relied on the long throw to some degree, now that they have come to terms with playing in the top division; it is used as one aspect of a wider strategy. They are now a multi-faceted team that is established in the Premier League, and this is a credit to Tony Pulis. There is no club that will enjoy visiting the Britannia Stadium this season; and not just because of Rory Delap’s long throw.