Stoke City – dirty or simply playing to their strengths?

What do Sam Allardyce, Mark Hughes and Tony Pulis all have in common? In the recent past all three men have had to defend their team’s style of play and state that they are not overly physical teams. It happened to Allardyce at Bolton, Hughes at Blackburn and now it is Pulis’s turn at Stoke. Stoke City will do what Stoke City have to do so in order to survive in the Premier League, or establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with, their method of play will not change to benefit others. The flip side of that should be for the opposition teams to counter their threats if they really believe that they are in for a physical match whenever they play Stoke.

The accusations of Stoke being a dirty team have of course been highlighted in the past week with Ryan Shawcross’s tackle on Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey. You never want to see any player from any team get a serious injury, or any injury, but for it to happen to an Arsenal player meant that the man in the centre of this debate, about teams being too physical, came in to the fore once again. No prizes for guessing that the manager being referred to is Arsene Wenger. It seems the problem in these types of situations is a team’s reputation, along with the fact that pretty football is not associated with the team. Could it be that too much is being made of the way they are playing and that the issue is now unnecessarily dragging on?

Dirty seems too harsh a word to use, if anything Stoke are the type of team who are just disciplined thoroughly, but in a professional manner. The stats show that they are the fourth highest in the Premier League for picking up yellow cards but this can be a misleading statistic because yellow cards can be given for minor things such as shirt pulls. Stoke are a dedicated team to doing the ugly things well. Each team has their own style of play and Pulis will recognise that whilst they cannot play the fluent football of Arsenal or Manchester United, they can get the right results by using whatever resources they have available to them. This leads to Rory Delap’s throw-ins. As valuable an asset as they are, it comes with unfair criticism because once the ball is in mid-air the players are preparing for a physical battle, a bit of a mish-mash- something that goes back to the whole debate of the way Stoke play. It would be interesting to see if anyone would make a remark if someone like Gary Neville, primarily United’s main throw-in taker, possessed Delap’s qualities with his throwing to benefit his team.

As well as Stoke have done for their own basis they have also increased the level of competition in the Premiership for what it takes to beat different teams. There are teams who play with the ball on the ground, there are teams that press you from all over the pitch and teams like Stoke are another hurdle you have to cross- this is their resilience, discipline and hard work. They battle and scrap in a traditional manner that is not something all 20 teams in the league do. In the main Stoke do not have the players to do the technical side of the game proud but the best league in the world would be in danger of becoming very repetitive if every team played in the same way. This is where credit must be given to Pulis. He has found a way of putting together a team that is capable of climbing the table without wanting to be found due to their lack of naturally talented players.

By playing to their strengths they do not need to play a type of football that is not suited to them. Clearly the club’s fans are more than happy with the way they play because The Britannia stadium was voted as the loudest ground in the league and the fans can only be inspired to get behind their team by what they see on the pitch. They will never pass teams of the park so in order to play for Stoke you need to be willing to graft. They have done well not to suffer the second season syndrome that promoted teams do, so with what they are providing it seems that the way they play will always be a topic for conversation.

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