Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution supposes that individuals that don’t adapt to their environment are less likely to survive, and will eventually become extinct. And at the moment, Stoke are seeming to prove the theory all over again.
The Potters were never going to win over many suitors with their uncompromising style. Any visiting sides were greeted with a raucous atmosphere and full-blooded challenges and of course, Rory Delap’s Herculean throw. Sometimes they overstepped the mark, but they were far from the norm in the Premier League, and other teams could not handle it. In their first season, survival was the aim, and survive they did.
In the following seasons, consolidation and development was expected, and Tony Pulis looked keen to deliver on that. The signings of Matthew Etherington, Jermaine Pennant and Peter Crouch hinted at a progression for the club, and an acknowledgement that the style, no matter how novel it was, was unsustainable. It looked as though Pulis wanted his side to play wide and play fast, a real throwback tactically.
In the age of systems and patterns of play, there was a simplistic beauty about a side getting the ball wide to quick wingers and firing in crosses for the big man up front. European football and the glamour trips were their reward, as well as an FA Cup final at Wembley against Manchester City. The evolution of Stoke City was well and truly underway.
Except it hasn’t really played out like that. Pennant has been dispatched, Etherington lost his form and his place until recently, and the goals have dried up at the Britannia Stadium. Instead of getting the ball wide, Stoke have bypassed the midfield entirely and gone from back to front in one hit through Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth.
From looking like a side that was evolving into a comfortable mid-table team, Stoke find themselves devolving and are well and truly in the midst of a real relegation battle.
In the Premier League, it is survival of the fittest. And with QPR, Norwich and Sunderland still to play, Stoke have some evolution to do if they want to stick around.
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