Mathematically, the visit of Everton may not have been a must-win game for Stoke, but it was most definitely a should-not-lose encounter. That was, at least, until Charlie Adam’s latest brain fart.
Everton, as Sam Allardyce admitted, have been psychologically shot on the road, having lost their last five away from Goodison Park. They haven’t lost six on the road in almost 25 years and not too long ago, the Britannia Stadium would have been one of the last environments any side might have chosen to try and arrest a poor run of results.
Stoke appealed to their supporters to revive the spirit of the bear pit but, on a freezing cold day with snow swirling around the Potteries, you cannot blame the home fans for failing to overcome their apprehension in order to provide the kind of noise that may have made the Toffees melt.
Paul Lambert had certainly got his players pumped, but perhaps that was part of the problem for Adam, who had begun encouragingly on his first start in six matches. The midfielder has plenty of previous for rashness brought on by overstimulation.
His dismissal on the half-hour mark has already provoked debate as to whether it was deserved or not, but as always, it was a needlessly aggressive challenge after a poor touch when restraint, or simply inaction, was required. His lunge on Wayne Rooney ticked all the boxes required to satisfy the criteria for serious foul play and Lambert said he “can certainly understand the decision”.
Trudging off towards the tunnel in the corner, Adam might have reflected on his last three appearances that would be funny if they weren’t potentially so tragic for his club.
In 57 minutes stretched out over appearances off the bench against Brighton and Leicester in addition to a start today, Adam has argued with team-mates before missing a last-minute penalty; made one of the worst substitute cameos the King Power Stadium is likely to have hosted; before leaving his team-mates a man light today.
At Leicester, he was sent on to steady the Stoke ship with the Foxes looking to add to the equaliser that had just netted prior to Adam’s arrival. In 16 minutes, he escaped a red card for a studs-up challenge while contending for a header; was booked for a foul on Kelechi Iheanacho while getting away with another; and presented Riyad Mahrez with a golden opportunity to sink the Potters with a woeful back-header.
That wasn’t enough for Lambert to lose faith in the midfielder, but this latest shambles must have shredded whatever patience remained, certainly among the Stoke support.
Perhaps it will be a blessing that Adam will watch the meetings with Arsenal, Tottenham and West Ham from a safe distance. By the time his suspension is served, Stoke will be left with four matches until the end of the season, by which time they need perhaps three wins to extend their decade-long stay in the Premier League.
Cenk Tosun’s double leaves the Potters on 27 points, three points off West Ham in 17th and Palace in 16th, though the Hammers have a game in hand, however they choose to use it. The average number of points required to stay up is 36, though 35 would have been enough last term.
In Lambert’s eight-game reign, Stoke have earned seven points, with only one win. A similar points-per-game performance between now and the seasons’s close would see them finish on 33 points. No team has finished with such a tally and survived.