Stoke’s next steps
Stoke City have been described as more like a rugby team at times during their time in the Premier League, while Roberto Mancini described Peter Crouch’s goal on Saturday as a “basketball goal”. A team for all sports they may be but there can be no doubting Tony Pulis’ side as a seriously effective football outfit.
It is a testament to the work done by Pulis in his tenure at the Brittania that before the game at the weekend it wasn’t considered a shock to predict a draw for them against the Champions; and it’s to the team’s credit further still that for the second season running they might lament their inability to have closed the game out against Manchester City. It’s been a long uttered cliche that nobody fancies a wet Tuesday night in February at Stoke but a warm September Saturday afternoon? Oh, the evolution!
There are obvious references to be made to the February 2010 challenge on Aaron Ramsey by Ryan Shawcross (Ramsey himself refuses to forget, publicly stating “I had a text off him straight after I done my leg but that was it” ahead of Arsenal’s trip to Stoke last month) while Andy Wilkinson’s aggressive manner has earned him few fans outside of the Potteries, yet to label Stoke as one-dimensional is both unfair and, more relevantly for opposing sides, dangerously under-estimating their quality.
There can be no denying that they still have that intimidating side to their game – Robert Huth is another physically capable member of their squad while Jonathan Walters and Peter Crouch both offer 6ft plus options up front, but thanks in no small part to that uncompromising attitude in their formative years in the top league, they have begun to add to that with astute moves in the transfer market to try and move on and redefine their style.
Crouch is perhaps a fine example of the policy; seeking under-valued but effective squad players from other clubs, Pulis has been able to quietly create a more substantial flesh to what was an unwelcoming skeleton and body for visitors; prudent acquisitions from relegated sides has also helped bolster the offerings for Stoke. Steven N’Zonzi, Michael Kightly and Charlie Adam all performed well in sides that eventually suffered the fate of the drop; like with Crouch, Pulis saw a good opportunity with Adam being frozen out by his club and brought him to the Midlands. Michael Owen might have been frozen out at Old Trafford but his ability to score at the highest level hasn’t necessarily diminished.
Perhaps through natural progression, maybe even by accident, the expectation of Stoke to get a result against City signalled that they had moved past a consolidation period and are now expected to move onto that next level. And through not being able to build upon that early lead – fortuitous as it came about – Pulis’ next task is how to do so, despite expressing how pleased he was, and saying how getting a result against a “big team” was always welcome.
A draw against the Champions may be a good result but remarkably, including pre-season, it was the eighth consecutive draw after ninety minutes for Stoke; the last time they won a competitive game was on April 7th, at home to Wolves. Their last win against a side that wasn’t relegated was on March 3rd, in a narrow 1-0 victory over Norwich.
Despite all the credit they deserve and the recognition that has arrived with the expectation that they would get a result on Saturday, there is the concern of the run of results and the fact they have won just four league games in 2012.
European football was their reward for getting to the FA Cup Final against their weekend visitors – and while it might be too soon to expect that through league qualification this season, by the end of
2013/14 Stoke should be up there – for a side that were only promoted to the Premier League in 2008, it is a significant effort from Pulis and all at the club and their achievements in the last 4 years should be commended with so much more than the mere abandonment of a cliche.
Even in the lower leagues, Stoke’s style has been deemed “unfashionable” but among their supporters it has been accepted as a necessary “evil” (perhaps attribute is a kinder description) in order to get them where they are today. Pulis is tasked with improving the team’s style to appease supporters and to do so by improving their league results – having done remarkably well over the last five years, their season promises to be one of the more interesting stories in the Premier League.
by: Wayne Barton, September 17, 2012