The Premier League season is reaching its conclusion and it is time for tributes and awards to be given to those individuals and teams that have excelled throughout the season. Ryan Giggs has already scooped the PFA Player of the Year award and EPL Talk has made its case for why Roy Hodgson should be given the manager of the year honour.
One place that will probably not be overloaded with praise and decoration come the season’s end will be the Britannia Stadium, home of Stoke City. With four games remaining Stoke lie in 12th position and appear certainties to avoid the drop. But it is the manner they have achieved that end that has at times drawn derision from within the football community.
At the start of the season the Potters were nailed on favourites to return to the Championship from whence they came, they had not spent enough in the summer, they did not have enough quality in their squad it was assumed. But against the odds Tony Pulis and his men have ground their way through the season and seemingly achieved what many thought was beyond them.
Stoke’s relative success has been based on superb home form roared on by what is one of the most fervent crowds in the Premier League. Stoke’s total of nine wins at home is one of the best in the league and has provided the bulk of their points total. Much has been made of the influence of Rory Delap’s super human long throws and Stoke’s physical approach to the game, often the analysis has not been exactly glowing.
Since when did football fans and analysts become so snobby about how the game is played? Is there not something thrilling about watching teams try to diffuse the maelstrom that is unleashed upon them by Stoke’s fired up players and passionate fans? Arsenal were wholly incapable of dealing with their threat from set pieces and Spurs were another team to wilt in the face of the challenge presented at the Brittania Stadium.
We seem far less willing these days to applaud the more earthy elements of the game, teams that thrive in physical encounters and can make the most of their limited resources. Stoke have shown grit and commitment throughout the season and their comeback against Aston Villa at Villa Park displayed their tremendous character. Stoke have also had to cope with the loss of Liam Lawrence, one of their most creative players, to injury for much of the season.
Delap’s throw ins have been a great weapon for the Potters but they have shown more quality at times than they have been given credit for, you simply cannot survive in the Premiership without a quota of good players. Ricardo Fuller scored one of the goals of the season with his flick, spin and drive against Aston Villa at the beginning of the season and Glenn Whelan has established himself on the international stage with the Republic of Ireland.
Manager Pulis has astutely put together a squad on a restricted budget that combines experience with players like Ryan Shawcross who are eager to make their mark on the top flight. The signing of James Beattie has also added goals to a squad that has looked short of cutting edge at times. Stoke may not be fashionable, much of that may be down to Tony Pulis’ tracksuit, but their performance this season deserves to be recognized.
So doff your cap to Stoke City and salute a survival job well done.