Along with Hull City, Tony Pulis’ Stoke side weren’t given a chance in the Premier League before a ball had even been kicked at the start of the 2008-09 campaign. However, the Potters had an immensely impressive season, exceeding all expectations by finishing in a very admirable 12th position. In the second half of last season Pulis’ side never really looked like real candidates for the drop and since then they have only gone from strength to strength. The Stoke manager has built a side who are not only establishing themselves in the Premier League, but also attempting to break into the top half. They currently lie in 11th position in the table and looking at all this it makes me wonder; why aren’t Stoke getting the credit they deserve?
Whilst browsing some betting websites recently (I like to dabble, what can I say), I noticed that Tony Pulis was in the bottom three managers in the ‘next manager to lose his job list’, with his job supposedly almost as safe as Alex Ferguson’s. At first I thought this was crazy but after thinking for a while, I realised it makes plenty of sense. Pulis has found a successful mix of physical and fluent football at Stoke and is now reaping the rewards. It may be a little optimistic to suggest they could push for a European place but having said that, Fulham now find themselves in the Europa League and are they really a much better side that Stoke?
It is true that when they first arrived in the Premier League, Stoke did not play the most glamorous football. Pulis’ side recorded wins against the likes of Arsenal and Aston Villa utilising their not so secret weapon; Rory Delap’s long throw. After this the media launched a tirade against Pulis and Stoke, claiming that their long throw and physical tactics were undermining teams like Arsenal, whose morals are focused on fluid and stylish football. But the fact of the matter is this; Stoke were just playing to their strengths, which involved their home form and Delap’s throw. The Premier League is the most competitive league in the world and every struggling side will do their utmost to gain an advantage over the opposition. Furthermore if sides like Arsenal and Aston Villa want to pursue their targets of being one of the country’s best sides then they need to be able to deal with this type of football. Sides like Bolton and Stoke would only be contributing to their own downfall if they tried to play like Brazil against Arsenal.
Although still a fundamental part of the set up at the Britannia stadium, Delap does now not just feature for his long throw. Pulis has built a solid side whose strengths lie outside of the physical aspect of the game as well as within it. He has made additions to the squad such as Matthew Etherington, an exciting winger who has begun to find the form he once enjoyed at West Ham and Tuncay Sanli, who is capable of sublime bicycle kicks and is by no means a battering ram. They have been widening their horizons as of late and have been playing some good football.
It is a well known fact that tags are easy to gain but hard to lose, but it is about time that Stoke lost theirs as a rugby side only capable of a long throw. Many Premier League sides whose foundations lie in ‘total football’ use Stoke as a scapegoat and blame the physical aspect of their side when the reality is that they are a hard working, enthusiastic side, and the Britannia Stadium is not an easy place to go. It is unlikely that the reputation will bother manager Tony Pulis as he will be focusing on continuing to develop his side, yet I think it bothers a significant number of Stoke fans. The Potters are well on their way to cementing a place as a solid Premier League side, similar to the way in which Charlton and Alan Curbishley did years ago. They are more than just a long throw, yet I fear it will be a while before this tag is dropped.