Coming off the back of a 6-1 defeat to Bournemouth last weekend you would think things could only get better as the Tigers faced Stoke City at the KCOM. Having only won once in their opening eight games Mark Hughes’ side were hardly in blistering form themselves, yet on Saturday they looked a class above their opponents as City were brushed aside with ease. In some ways this was worse than the drubbing at Dean Court.
Mike Phelan made three changes from the side that was well beaten last Saturday. Andy Robertson’s injury forced him out of the team, while Harry Maguire and Shaun Maloney were dropped. Tom Huddlestone and David Meyler came in along with Michael Dawson, who was making his first appearance of the campaign having fully recovered from the injury he picked up during pre-season. City set up in a 4-5-1 formation, Will Keane keeping his place as the lone striker.
Stoke had the better of the early exchanges as Xherdan Shaqiri and Joe Allen both had chances, David Marshall doing well to race of his line to deny the latter. Will Keane had City’s first real attempt on goal half way through the first 45, but his header was off target.
On 26 minutes the away side took a deserved lead. City only half-cleared Shaqiri’s corner, and after the ball found its way back out to him, the Swiss international cut inside and curled a shot into the top corner from just outside the box.
This evidently rattled the Tigers as Marko Arnautovic should have doubled his team’s lead soon after, but his effort was blocked by Marshall before the ball somehow flew over the bar after rebounding off Michael Dawson. City’s captain was again called into action just before half-time as he brilliantly slid in to block on-loan Manchester City striker Wilfried Bony, who is still looking for his first goal for his new club.
City could have done with a quick response at the beginning of the second half, but were dealt a hammer blow on 50 minutes when the Potters doubled their lead. Some calamitous defending led to a free-kick being awarded 20 yards from goal, and predictably Shaqiri stepped up and curled a sublime shot over the wall and into David Marshall’s goal.
Some inspiration was desperately needed and Phelan turned to Abel Hernandez five minutes later to get City back into the game. The Uruguayan could have made an immediate impact but he fired way off target having found himself in space in the opposition’s area. Stoke composed themselves and could have gone 3-0 up had it not been for David Marshall, the Scotsman keeping out Joe Allen’s shot with a fine save. Arnautovic wasted a good chance soon after as City’s players looked lost out on the pitch.
With 20 minutes to go Harry Maguire and Adama Diomande were brought on in a last ditch attempt to salvage something from a frankly abysmal display. Diomande actually created a chance moments after coming on as he teed up Livermore for a shot, but he failed to trouble Lee Grant in the Stoke goal. Hernandez had a half-chance late on but couldn’t convert a Sam Clucas delivery.
It finished 2-0 and that now makes it five losses on the bounce for City. A depressing spectacle was only made worse by the thousands of empty seats in the stands – the official attendance was 18,522, but you can’t help but wonder if even that figure was an inflated one. An away fixture at Watford awaits on Saturday and we can only hope that the rot stops at Vicarage Road.
Harry Drew (@hdrew95 )