In Friday’s press conference at FC Dallas Stadium, new Stoke City manager Mark Hughes confirmed his desire to help his new club play a more “progressive” style than the straight ahead, defensive style they’re known for, without getting rid of those elements that have kept Stoke in the Premier League since the 2008/2009 season. On Saturday night, fans in north Texas had the opportunity to see Hughes’ latest project as FC Dallas hosted Stoke City in the second of Stoke’s three-match preseason U.S. tour.
In the first 20 minutes, Stoke didn’t have much opportunity to roll out any new strategy as they had their hands full with FC Dallas’ fast-paced attack. Thanks to speedy midfielders Fabian Castillo and Jackson, Dallas challenged Stoke’s back line early on, with goalkeeper Asmir Begovic rushing out to the edge of his box to make a clutch save against Castillo in the 6th minute. Begovic also kept his team in the match by barely stopping two lethal corner kicks curled directly into the goalmouth from Dallas’ Brazilian set-piece maestro Michel.
As the first half progressed, Stoke slowly revealed traces of Hughes’ new approach. New Dutch defender Erik Pieters frequently moved up to join the attack on the left wing. Gone were the long balls into the box, replaced by more patient passing and overlaps. Steven N’Zonzi was the busiest and brightest player for Stoke in the first half, criss-crossing the field with a lot of energy. The only goal of the match materialized as a result of the new-look Stoke when a short passing sequence, on the ground, around the top of the box led to a through-ball from Pieters to Jonathan Walters who slid it past Dallas’ MLS All-Star keeper Raul Fernandez.
Early in the second half, Stoke’s speed through central midfield increased with the addition of Charlie Adam and Cameron Jerome. Though Peter Crouch provided an aerial target, Stoke continued to play mostly on the ground, often working the ball all the way back to Shawcross or Huth to maintain possession.
Late in the match, Jerome’s speed running onto a ball caused defender Stephen Keel to bring him down in the box. Dallas fans howled as the ref awarded a controversial penalty kick. Backup Dallas keeper Chris Seitz then saved Jerome’s kick from the spot.
In the final ten minutes, the friendly turned testy when Stoke defender Andy Wilkinson received a red card for his feisty cleats-up challenge on Danny Garcia. By then, Stoke’s best scoring chances were behind them, though they wouldn’t require any more to get the win.
While Stoke definitely showed some preseason rust with errant touches and miscommunication, they also showed hints of creativity not usually associated with the club under Tony Pulis. Will these “progressive” changes be enough to help Stoke finish higher than their 13th place finish last season, or will the fierce Premier League competition force them back into their traditional defensive shell?
Photo credit: Drew Epperley