Potters Off To A Flyer

Neuchatel Xamax v Stoke City


STOKE CITY got their preparations for the new campaign underway with a deserved victory over Neuchatel Xamax in their opening fixture of the 2017 Uhrencup, at the Tissot Arena.

Mark Hughes’ side had only returned to training five days earlier and were put through their paces in a worthwhile encounter against the Swiss second-tier outfit, who had already had the benefit of two weeks of training under their belts.

However, with the game looking likely to end in stalemate they claimed all three points in the tournament curtain-raiser courtesy of an 87th minute OG from Mustafa Sejmenovic, after he attempted to clear the ball away from the fast approaching Tyrese Campbell.

The Welshman named two entirely different elevens in each half, with both featuring a mixture of regular first-teamers and several prospects from Glyn Hodges’ U23 squad.

The starting line-up featured the likes of skipper Ryan Shawcross, Jack Butland, Bojan and Saido Berahino whilst the side that took to the field following the break included Giannelli Imbula, Glen Johnson, Peter Crouch and debutant Josh Tymon.

The encounter had barely begun by the time the Welshman was forced into a change after Phil Bardsley pulled up with an apparent back injury, meaning U18 Player of the Year Tom Edwards was handed an early opportunity to impress.

Whilst the Swiss side enjoyed the lion’s share of possession during the initial exchanges, it was the Potters who went closest to breaking the deadlock when the lively Dominic Telford clipped an effort into the side-netting after showing tremendous footwork to manoeuvre space inside the box.

The young forward was at it again soon after with a curling effort that flew inches wide, although in hindsight he may have been better served laying the ball across to the unmarked Saido Berahino.

At the other end Jack Butland had to be alert to thwart a dangerous Neuchatel break, as he scurried off his line to deny Max Veloso, who had steamed in behind the Potters backline from a wide position.

Undoubtedly though, the best chance of the half fell to Berahino, who was looking incredibly trim following the summer break, however, after latching onto Telford’s cure through ball, he slipped at the wrong time and saw his effort sliced into the stand behind the goal.

Hughes’ decision to make wholesale changes at the interval failed to change the momentum of the game with the Potters remaining the brighter of the two sides on show, even if the Swiss team were having plenty of ball possession.

That said, Jakob Haugaard was forced into one tremendous save to keep the scoreline on level-pegging, reaching across to the top right hand corner to tip a speculative strike from distance over the bar.

Belgian youngster Verlinden was showing glimpses of his talent on the right flank and produced an outstanding ball to Peter Crouch on the hour mark, but the former England man watched on with disbelief as the Neuchatel ‘keeper clawed the ball wide of 

The winger then went close himself as he watched a powerful drive fly agonisingly over the crossbar, after cleverly side-stepping his marker 30-yards out.

As the seconds and minutes ticked down towards the full-time whistle, an incisive City break forward saw Verlinden whip a delicious ball into the danger zone, which the unfortunate Sejmenovic slid past his own 'keeper under pressure from Campbell.

Stoke City First Half: Butland; Bardsley (Edwards 19), Shawcross (C), Sweeney, Pieters; Adam, Jarvis; Arnautovic, Bojan, Telford; Berahino. Subs: Edwards, Campbell.

Stoke City Second Half: Haugaard; Johnson, Wollscheid, Souttar, Tymon; Muniesa, Imbula; Ngoy, Shenton (Campbell 80), Verlinden; Crouch.