• October 1, 2016
    Last updated 4 minutes ago

premier league

Hughes calls on Stoke to turn around disastrous early form

Suggests new rules on grappling may be playing on side’s minds

By Dominic Fifield, The Guardian News & Media
15:45 September 19, 2016

Selhurst Park, London: Mark Hughes has admitted that Stoke City’s aspirations for the campaign ahead could be wrecked before the end of the autumn if they do not arrest their alarming early season form after his side were thrashed by Crystal Palace to remain pinned to the bottom of the table.

Stoke have managed a solitary point from their five games to date, are yet to lead a match this season and have now conceded four goals in three of their past four league matches to leave a side who have finished ninth in each of the past three seasons forlorn.

Hughes had targeted an improvement on those finishes this season but has admitted that would feel like a pipedream if immediate improvement is not instigated.

“We have work to do because we have ambitions this season and, if this run continues any longer, we won’t be able to achieve them,” Hughes said.

“We need to turn this round very quickly. We haven’t really got going yet at all. We’ve been ninth in the Premier League in the last three years and we spoke about being better than that in the summer. But it’s a difficult league, a strong league, and you have to be ready to go every time you go out there.

“We’re just giving ourselves too much to do in games, our decision-making in key areas is lacking at the moment and confidence is damaged after the last few results. You can see that in some of the players’ play. A number are lacking form. We have to be better as individuals and also collectively. We haven’t dealt with being behind in games and at the moment every cross or shot is hurting us. We’re giving opposing players free headers. Jack Butland’s a loss for us [to injury] but we have to do better.”

Hughes, the subject of an FA misconduct charge after being sent to the stands against Tottenham Hotspur the previous week, believes Stoke are victims of the perceived referees’ clampdown on grappling in the box, with his players potentially still unnerved by the penalty conceded by Ryan Shawcross against Manchester City in August.

They were breached three times from set pieces by Palace with their back-line nervy throughout.

“We talk about defending free-kicks and everyone is given a responsibility, a man to mark,” Hughes said.

“But we had a problem earlier in the season when we were being targeted by referees after the new directives. “Whether that’s playing on the guys’ minds and they’re not getting close enough ... We need to get back to basics and do the fundamentals better. We have to show that because we never, at any stage, gave ourselves an opportunity to stay in this game.”