Drying game: Stoke facing probe into new tactic but won't throw in the towel
Stoke City have come out fighting in defence of their latest controversial ploy to make the most of their long-throw tactic.
Footage from the 2-1 win against Tottenham on Sunday showed Ryan Shotton drying the ball with a towel underneath his shirt before taking throw-ins.
The plan worked a treat as he caused havoc in the Spurs penalty area, but the novel idea was under scrutiny by the football authorities as Premier League rules state that both clubs must agree to using towels during a game.
The FA are looking to establish whether Stoke’s tactic leaves them open to disciplinary procedures, although it is unclear whether jurisdiction rested with the FA or Premier League. Clarification is expected on Tuesday, but Stoke are adamant that their innovative method of ensuring Shotton was able to dry the ball was within the rules.
A club spokesman said: ‘It’s a towelling vest that is the same colour as the shirt. The only stipulation is that, as long as the undergarment is the same colour as the predominant colour of the shirt, then it’s not a problem. It does not stipulate what fabric it has to be.’
During the home defeat to Queens Park Rangers on November 19, opposing manager Neil Warnock demanded equal use of towels, as Stoke usually supply matchday ball boys with them to ensure the balls can be dried before throws are taken.
Warnock’s intervention is likely to have triggered the decision to supply Shotton with his own drying device rather than having towels on the touchline against Spurs.
Whether Stoke are cleared to continue with the ploy remains to be seen, but it illustrates how the club are determined to reap maximum benefit from the throws that have become a major feature of their game. Manager Tony Pulis has been keen to make the most of the freakish throws into the box from Rory Delap and, more recently, Shotton.
Last season, Stoke’s pitch was one of the smallest in the top flight, measuring 100x64metres — the minimum dimensions permissible. That looked set to change this season after the club qualified for the Europa League, as pitches in UEFA competition must measure 105x68m.
However, to ensure that the club continued to make the most of Delap and Shotton’s potent throws, they have marked out two pitches at the Britannia Stadium — one for domestic competition and another for European games.
Stoke’s reliance on long throws has been widely criticised. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has been outspoken about the tactic and even suggested the idea of scrapping throw-ins altogether.
Speaking in 2008, he said: ‘(The rule I would change would be) maybe to play throw-ins by foot. Why not? I think it would make the game quicker.
‘For example at Stoke, for Rory Delap it is like kicking the ball. It is a little bit of an unfair advantage. He is using a strength that is usually not a strength in football.’
The FA again taking action on the issues that keep us awake at night. Forget Barcelona, someone should cross-examine Stoke's tactics. Tots units fem força al Britannia.
ETA: On Monday Night Football before KO, Gary Neville analyses teams' tactics from the weekend; yesterday before El Cashico he analysed Barcelona's tactics to the hilt, and I suggested he should have dumped Barcelona and analysed Stoke to that level.