Having selected eight different wide players in 2010, Fabio Capello is hardly short of options on the wing – even England's troublesome left side has hosted a genuine left-footer of considerable menace in the shape of Manchester City's Adam Johnson. But that will not stop Stoke City supporters calling for Capello, who announces his latest England squad today, to pay attention to Matthew Etherington's form.
Named Stoke's best player last season, Etherington is already staking a claim for this year's title as creator in chief, this time setting up Jon Walters for his first Premier League goal with a measured through ball. Both Etherington and Jermaine Pennant – another English winger whose international involvement halted at Under‑21 level – kept Blackburn's defence on their toes throughout.
"The two wide players were very effective," said the Stoke manager, Tony Pulis, as chipper afterwards as Rovers' Sam Allardyce was glum, after Stoke deservedly took a third win in four games. "Matty's been brilliant this year, outstanding," he added, singling out the man who has had a hand in more than half of the Potters' goals this season.
Had Kenwyne Jones been able to get better purchase on an eighth‑minute header, Etherington could have had his assist sooner, and he might even have scored himself before half-time. Twice he was on the end of whipped Pennant crosses; his first strike found the side-netting and the second was buffeted around his near post by Paul Robinson. Shortly after Walters's goal early in the second half, Etherington's well-struck free‑kick beat the wall but was at a comfortable height for the keeper.
Pulis stuck to his habitual insistence that only Capello can choose his team but he was effusive in his praise of Walters, who arrived in Stoke this summer after a seven-year odyssey in the lower leagues. "He's been an absolute dream to work with. I'm really pleased we were able to do a deal. I thought he had something left at this level. Jon's proved there are players out there who can step up."
Allardyce said he was delighted to see Walters, whom he had sold when Bolton manager in 2004, achieving at this level but "gutted" that it had come against his side. Moreover, he was frustrated to have been let down by "bog standard, basic defending" for Walters's goal, when Christopher Samba was left exposed by Ryan Nelsen's decision to challenge Jones for an aerial ball close to the halfway line.
He might also dwell on the decision to remove El Hadji Diouf, whose increasing frustration threatened to earn him a second yellow card, as a costly, though necessary, manoeuvre. Even with three up front for the last half‑hour, Blackburn never really threatened to breach Stoke's back four. Only Brett Emerton's first-half volley got the better of Thomas Sorensen and even then Ryan Shawcross – another hoping to catch Capello's eye – was waiting on his goalline to head clear.
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