Stoke City have enjoyed relative success as a football club over the past few years. Under Tony Pulis they have become an established Premier League team, and in doing so have come to rely on an often criticized, but largely effective style of play.
The Britannia Stadium has become something of a fortress during their time in the top flight with the home fans generating a raucous, often gladiatorial-style atmosphere, and each of the league’s elite sides have come to view their visit as one of the toughest away fixtures of a league season. The criticism has been for a largely physical and direct playing style, sometimes unfairly seen as merely bullying the opposition into submission. This has been rebuffed quite successfully by Pulis as he has led the club to regular mid-table finishes in the Premier League, and a first ever FA Cup final in 2010-11.
He has indeed been seen to be attempting to steer his side to a more possession focused style of play in recent seasons, through the signings of several smaller in stature ball-playing attackers such as Matthew Etherington, Jermaine Pennant and Charlie Adam. However the transition in playing style has been far from seamless and more often than not the team have returned to the long-ball, physical tactics which they have become synonymous with under Pulis.
Until the current campaign, the playing style has gone largely unopposed by the home fans as results have legitimized the approach. However the club head into their final six games of the 2012/13 season having won just once in their previous 13 matches, and hovering three points above the relegation positions. For the first time since their return to the top flight in 2008, the club face the real possibility of losing their place amongst the elite.
The Britannia crowd remains vocal, 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. Following their latest defeat, at home to fellow relegation candidates Aston Villa at the weekend, the final whistle was met with a chorus of boos, and the manager cut an isolated figure on the touchline. Pulis continues to remain positive and has called for character from his players for the run-in to the season. However their predicament poses a weightier question; with the modern game adapting around them towards a more free-flowing, possession and passing focused style of play, epitomised by the emergence of Swansea and Southampton among others, is the Stoke City, Tony Pulis way not only out of style, but out of time?