Tony Pulis’ job at the Britannia Stadium cannot be understated. The former Portsmouth and Plymouth manager has not only taken Stoke City to the heights of Premier League football, but is in the process of firmly cementing their place within the division. Pulis has done so without breaking the bank and has made a habit of rejuvenating player’s careers. The likes of Danny Higginbotham, Ryan Shawcross and Salif Diao have all experienced a rebirth under the guidance of Pulis and he has helped reform the reputation of some of football’s lost names.
With the instalment of Gianfranco Zola at Upton Park, Matthew Etherington was fast fading into obscurity. The winger had found himself out of favour with the Italian, who preferred to play a younger squad and Etherington was running out of chances with the club given his widely documented gambling problems. Etherington knew he needed a change in scenery if his career was going to progress yet few were prepared to give the troubled midfielder a chance.
However, in January of last year, Tony Pulis offered Etherington a lifeline, bringing the winger to the Britannia Stadium for a fee of £2 million and neither Stoke nor Etherington have looked back since.
The former West Ham man arrived in Stoke with the Potters experiencing a mid-season slump and looking like candidates for relegation. Etherington however, found his feet quickly under Pulis and became a key member in the sides bid for Premier League survival. He once again began to show glimpses of the exciting winger who had helped West Ham secure promotion and looked to be relishing the opportunity of first team football. Despite a reckless red card in a spring fixture against Sunderland, Etherington was largely impressive for the Potters and Pulis had made yet another shrewd signing.
It has however, been this season that Etherington has really come into his own. The winger has been instrumental in Stoke’s bid to establish themselves as a Premier League side, a bid that is so far going to plan. He has once again found his scoring touch and is contributing to the Potters cause with the odd goal as well as several assists. Etherington’s strike in the encounter with Hull was of particular quality as the winger drove in from the left flank before crashing the ball past the helpless Matt Duke.
There is no doubt that Stoke were one of 2009’s surprise packages and several members of their squad have reminded football fans everywhere that they deserve a place in England’s top league. Matthew Etherington has proved his worth in the Premier League after a few seasons to forget and has now become one of the first names on the Stoke team sheet. The midfielder’s natural width has offered another dimension to Stoke’s play, something that Pulis has been keen on focusing on given his willingness to rid the Potters of their tag as a physical team.
At only 28 years of age Etherington still has several years ahead of him and if he continues to show promise then both he and Stoke could be experiencing a lengthy stay in the Premier League.
Follow me on Twitter