It’s viewed by many as one of the toughest grounds in the Premier League to visit but we never seem to have that many problems there. We certainly didn’t yesterday as Stoke City were brushed aside 4 – 0 for the second time in five months.
The performances of the opening three games are forgotten. The laboured win over Palace, the fitfulness against Liverpool and Everton; this was us back in full flow. And just in time with the Champions League opener this week.
Dele Alli and Harry Kane broke their season ducks whilst Heung-min Son made us remember why Wolfsburg wanted to sign him for £25m. If he could reproduce that performance more often, we might not wonder why the club didn’t sell him. The win was made all the sweeter with Mark Hughes being sent to the stand after half-an-hour.
The Stoke philosophy of ‘if it moves, kick it’ lurks beneath the surface and they’ve added ‘hit the turf at every opportunity’. Arnautovic was rightly booked for diving and Hughes, who has never been short of a word or two to sign on things, opened his mouth too much for the officials liking. Comedy gold with his reaction to the travelling fans.
As much as winning 4 – 0 is fun, there was more pleasure to be drawn from the defensive performance whilst the scores were level. Bony was a threat early on and Vertonghen made a good block from a Walters shot. Other opportunities were denied, something I think we would have struggled to do in the past, certainly at the end of last season. It’s too soon to claim mental strength has been instilled in the side but it’s another promising sign for the campaign.
Having threatened for a while, the goals eventually came. Eriksen rode the challenge from hipster beardy Joe Allen and pulled the ball perfectly back to Son. My nan, bless her, is propping up daisies but with that time and space, even she would have scored. Son did as well, firmly with his left foot.
The same pair combined in a lightning counter-attack which put a truer picture on the scoreline for the second. Eriksen found the South Korean international on the edge of the area and his shot flew inside the far post. Stoke heads dropped and the game was soon over.
Another counter-attack with Kyle Walker leading the charge, ended with Alli, unmarked and with a clear sight of goal. Like Son, he didn’t miss a straightforward chance. Any further goals were taking the Stoke wounds and rubbing salt vigourously into them.
Which we did through Harry Kane with twenty minutes to go. It’s a moment when the weight was lifted off his shoulder and ours as well. The pressure for a goal was building, not just from us but the rest of the nation as well following the recent England internationals. Once again, Son was a pivotal figure, this time with an assist.
It was a fine performance with just one concern. Victor Wanyama has a history of disciplinary problems in England and Scotland. Yesterday was another example of that. At a bigger ground such as Old Trafford or Anfield, he will find that the second yellow card comes more readily.
Booked already, he didn’t show any restraint in his tackling which is commendable but he has to take a measured approach in those situations. It didn’t matter and Poch’s decision to substitute him solved a potential problem. A quiet word in his shell-like wouldn’t go amiss.
As it is, three points, into the top four with four goals away from home. Mustn’t grumble, eh?