Monday night’s nil-nil draw between Sunderland and Stoke may have had some fans falling asleep in front of the tele, or even inside the Stadium of Light, but while the match lacked goals, it was abundant in two well organised, stable teams who are now established Premiership outfits.
Both teams have had some money to spend, but so did Newcastle, so did Middlesbrough, what both teams do have however is a very talented, English manager.
Steve Bruce and Tony Pulis, both have proven records as managers, and both are now trying to move their respective teams into solid, European football chasing premiership sides.
The tricky part is actually doing it.
Many managers have fallen down the slippery slide of buying attacking, foreign, exciting but terribly lazy midfielders and strikers who can’t cope with the scrappy, physical premiership.
Stoke came up to the top tier in 2008, and got physical, very physical, but for it to be successful, they needed determination, teamwork and a will to win. That is what Pulis is one of the best managers in the country at doing. Creating a fantastic team atmosphere and morale, he acted superbly when dealing with the on-pitch spat between Andy Griffin and Ricardo Fuller last season, not allowing the incident to affect his side’s performance in anyway.
Bruce too, follows this code of management, what happens within the team, stays in the team. The other rule of course, is, what Bruce and Pulis say, then that’s how it goes.
Both managers too, have a fantastic know how into getting a defence to work in harmony, a midfielder can work on his own, so can a striker, but it’s one of the first rules of defending, you always defend as a team.
Both managers, of course, spent their playing days as….. central defenders no less, and how it shows.
Both managers have spent wisely, Bruce bringing in the talented Michael Turner from Hull, as well as Matthew Kilgallon from Sheffield United, a premiership quality player for several seasons now, and Pulis too has been smart, bringing in Robert Huth to play alongside Richard Shawcross.
Bringing in these tall, intelligent, strong defenders has allowed both managers to build a solid premiership side, attack begins from defence, and while neither side are setting the goal records on fire, defending, for the most part, has been excellent, Stoke have conceded two fewer goals than Arsenal!
With a solid defence, a team can move forward, both off the pitch and on it, a good defence is a platform for the midfield to attack and support strikers, and from there, the opportunities to score goals, and thus win games, increases.
There is potential for both of these sides to really make headlines, both sides have quality up front, Sunderland with Jones and Bent, and now Benjani of course, Stoke with Fuller, Beattie and Tuncay. Pulis’ selection policy of these strikers has raised some eyebrows, but the team remains a success, and thus, so does Pulis.
Monday’s game may have been somewhat unpleasant on the eye, but to those looking hard enough, to the fans who really cared, it showed everything they would have wanted to see from their teams.
This is a rare opportunity for Bruce and Pulis, to take a good long look at the future of their teams, not in a relegation battle, yet not challenging for Europe, yet. It is a rare time to build the foundations for a consistent challenge on the top half of the Premiership, and from there, who knows.
Though nothing is a certainty in this sport, Stoke and Sunderland have more reason than most to be optimistic.