Tuesday 16 January 2018

Wilson still sees positives despite 'sloppy' final act

Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

Their march to the final had fairytale qualities, but the big day developed into a non-fictional affair for Tony Pulis and the unlikely cast of characters he brought to Wembley.

A Stoke team featuring four Irishmen in a cup final starting XI -- the last team to do that was the victorious Liverpool side of 1989 -- ultimately lost the spark that has defined their form in recent weeks. They were nullified by the Manchester City machine. Stoke's approach might anger the purists yet, in football terms, there was nothing romantic about this outcome. Quite simply, the team with the better players won the day.

In many ways, the story of the Irish contingent gives an idea of where it went wrong for the underdogs.

Glenn Whelan and Rory Delap started in the centre of midfield, flanked by Matthew Etherington and Jermaine Pennant. Manchester City outnumbered Stoke in the engine room, with Nigel de Jong, Gareth Barry and Yaya Toure to the fore. With David Silva frequently moving inside, the Irish pair were fighting a losing battle. They struggled to make an impact.

As a result, Jonathan Walters, so impressive as a striker in the last month, spent large parts of the game dropping deeper in an attempt to get on the ball. Indeed, he was closest to Toure when City's highest-paid player smashed home the winner.

The ball made its way to Toure after a deflection off Marc Wilson, who was lining out in a relatively unfamiliar left-back role here. Certainly, considering he is more at home elsewhere, the Antrim native put in an impressive showing, but entering this kind of fixture with round pegs in square holes illustrated the difference in resources available to Pulis and Mancini. Understandably, the Stoke crew weren't in chatty form after such a disappointment.

Delap stared at his phone as he walked through the mixed zone area, while the affable Walters apologised but said he wasn't in the mood for reflection just now.

Wilson looked to concentrate on the positives. "It was a great achievement for Stoke to even reach the final, we've done magnificent to make it this far," said the 23-year-old.

"It's very disappointing. You have to give Man City credit, they played well. It was a bit of a sloppy goal, but they won it. The ball's just hit me and it comes out in his direction, but you've got to take it on the chin. Our lads didn't play the way we've been playing (in the last few weeks) but that happens."

After missing out on Portsmouth's 2010 final appearance through injury, the versatile performer admits that he still managed to enjoy the experience.

And a European adventure is the reward for the cup run.

"The club is going in the right direction," he declared.

Stoke don't have too long to mull over this setback. Next up is another meeting with their cup conquerors in the league tomorrow. Beyond that, Whelan, Walters and Wilson have a lengthy end-of-season international jaunt looming over the horizon.

Whelan's place in Giovanni Trapattoni's plans is guaranteed, and Walters has a decent chance of involvement. Wilson, on the other hand, is waiting for a proper audition.

"I'm looking forward to it," he said, before adding with a smile, "If selected."

Irish Independent

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