These are challenging times for Stoke City manager Tony Pulis, who after the defeat at home to Aston Villa has seen his team only win just one game in the last thirteen games this year and are now being dragged into the relegation scrap.
Stoke City are edging ever so closer to the relegation trap door and Pulis needs to find a way in his next six games to avoid any threats of relegation to do this, Tony Pulis is going to have to call on all his experience and motivation as manager, to guide the Potters to the four points from the remaining six games, which they will almost certainly need to stay up.
Stoke’s Chairman, Peter Coates has backed the under fire manager by giving him his vote of confidence to avoid relegation and keep the club in the top flight for the six successive season. The Stoke chairman remains confident Tony Pulis will steer Stoke City to a sixth successive season in the Premier League – despite increasing speculation over his manager’s future at the Britannia Stadium. Pulis’ position is under the microscope and it still uncertain whether he will remain with the club beyond the end of the current campaign but Tony Pulis is determined to maintain his managerial record of never being relegated as a manager.
On Saturday, Stoke’s defence against a young Villa side who attacked with pace and precision, just wasn’t up to it. The Potters were outplayed in this game almost from start to finish. Where Stoke looked, tired, jaded and out of any ideas, their opponents, Villa looked eager and enthusiastic out the two teams to win the three points. Many of sections of the faithful crowd at the Britannia Stadium called for Tony Pulis to swallow his pride and change his direct tactics, they were losing their patience and faith in Tony Pulis who persisted to keep Charlie Adam on the substitute’s bench and play the same players. Boos rang around the Britannia Stadium at the final whistle on Saturday, which isn’t the first time this season and not entirely without justification as the first half performance by Stoke was as bad as any performance this season. Stoke have never looked more vulnerable as a team with no fight or belief.
Tony Pulis called on his team to show their character as they try to secure their Premier League survival; “The character now is very important. It is important we stay in the Premier League, we have six games to go and we need a point a game. It is important the lad’s stay confident. We have Manchester United, Tottenham, Norwich at home and then tough games away from home too. We have played well away so it a good test for everyone at the football club now”.
The trusted Stoke crowd remains vocal still and their backing of the team has rarely faltered. However there is no doubt the stadium holds less fear and intimidation for the opposition than in previous seasons, teams such as West Ham and Aston Villa have come to the Britannia Stadium with belief and confidence in their football and left the Potteries with all three points. Have teams this season worked out how to play Stoke City? Is Tony Pulis tactics and way of playing the game, not only out of style, but out of time?
Scrapping around in the final six games to be sure of breaking through the 40-point mark was perfectly acceptable in 2008-09, when Stoke were desperately trying to survive in their first season back in the top flight for 23 years, but times and expectations have changed. After reaching the FA Cup final in 2011, playing in Europe the following season and holding their own in the Premier League, supporters want to see a bit more on the menu. “If you’re given steak and chips every day, steak and chips becomes the norm,” Pulis said. Stoke fans want to see Tony Pulis evolve the direct style of play and aim for a top ten finish instead of fighting to avoid relegation. The new £3 billion television deal next season, up 70 per cent on the previous contract, means it has never been more important for Stoke City to stay in the Premier League.
With tricky away trips to QPR, Sunderland and Southampton to come for Stoke, who have taken just nine points from 48 from their travels so far this season – the onus will be on their home form which has let them down this season. Stoke have a big fight on their hands having just taken one point in their last six games, against Fulham, West Ham, Newcastle, West Brom, Everton and Aston Villa. Who remembers the Stoke City team who beat Liverpool on Boxing Day at the Britannia Stadium, to move within five points of the Champions League places; the team that was surely one of the most effectively drilled and ruthlessly organised in the country? How times have changed for Stoke City in 2013, having just won one game since defeating Liverpool, they have also lost two of their last three at home and are now in the relegation mire, just a point above Aston Villa. Stoke poor run of form this year, has seen them just take five points since the start of the year and they have the worst points per game ratio of any team in the country in 2013.
With this season’s expected Champions, Man United at the Britannia Stadium on Sunday it all points to a nervous end-of-season finale for Stoke to avoid relegation. Just three points separate Stoke City and third from bottom Wigan who have a game in hand. Four points are expected to be needed in Stoke’s next six games to avoid being relegated, six points would see Stoke reach the 40 point of safety.
Whether the style of football at Stoke has been that good under Pulis is a matter of debate, but Tony Pulis transformed the club in 2006 struggling to avoid relegation in the Championship to promotion to the Premier League in 2007 and has kept them at the top. Winning promotion to the Premier League in his second season was quite an achievement but keeping Stoke there and turning them into an established Premier League club is quite another. Stoke are a completely different club, on and off the pitch, to the one he rejoined in 2006. For this Tony Pulis as Stoke City manager deserves plenty of credit along with the faith shown by the Chairman, Peter Coates, who knew bringing in Tony Pulis at the time would be unpopular amongst sections of Stoke supporters, has been generous in providing Tony Pulis with up to £80m on transfers since the club was promoted in 2007. To put that figure into context, only Manchester City and Chelsea have spent more in that period of time.
How Stoke play and whether or not they play beautiful football or score a bucket load of goals matters little to some supporters, it seems, when Stoke winning games at the Britannia Stadium, like the previous seasons but when those wins turn to defeats, the football served up at the Britannia Stadium is harder to tolerate and the criticisms people make from the outside are not so easily ignored by the faithful Stoke fans. Not only have Stoke conceded 14 goals in seven games at home (despite conceding just four goals in the first nine home games), they’ve failed to impress at the other end too with a lack of goals with as little as more than a goal per game is again not good enough and why Stoke fighting for their lives to stay up.
Stoke City are the ‘dark horses’ to be relegated this season and the odds favor Stoke City, with teams like Sunderland, Aston Villa and Wigan with the more difficult run in on fixtures but Tony Pulis can’t rely on those teams below Stoke City to lose games and to be relegated. Stoke City need four points out of the next six games to realistically secure their Premier League status next season. Six points would be a bonus and see Stoke City reach the magical forty point mark. It won’t be easy ask with fixtures against Manchester United, Spurs and Norwich at the Britannia Stadium and tough away games at QPR, Sunderland and Southampton but its achievable and if Stoke City show the fight and passion which kept them in the top flight for the last five seasons then they will do it!
In these testing times for the football club, there is one thing for sure, the club needs the support of all its fans to ensure they make it over the line in their next six games and avoid relegation. It is time for the fans to continue to show that exact same passionate support throughout the final three home games of the season as they push to keep Stoke in the top flight for the six successive seasons, especially with the millions of pounds extra at the clubs’ disposal if Stoke survive thanks to the bumper Sky TV deal. Stoke fans were vociferous against Villa and unfortunately didn’t get anything, but there is no doubt that we’ll be loud against Manchester United and that is precisely what is necessary to help lift the team.
The position of Tony Pulis until the end of the season is safe and he has the chairman’s backing and support, if Pulis guides Stoke City to their six successive seasons in the Premier League then he may evolve the tactics next season if he still manager. Pulis may very well move upstairs and replace Stoke City director of football, John Rudge and a new manager may be bought in or Pulis may still have unfinished business next season if he managers to continue his record of never being relegated as a manager in football.