Critics of Tony Pulis are seemingly found at every corner in the British press. Yet his accomplishments with Stoke City have gone underappreciated. He came back to Stoke in 2006 after boardroom intrigue had forced him out of the job previously. That first season back as the manager of the Championship side, Pulis took a team that many felt before the season could have been relegated and just missed the promotion playoffs.
The following year Pulis guided Stoke to automatic promotion and immediately set to solidify Premier League status. The season would be the club’s first in the top flight since the formation of the Premier League. The 2008-09 season saw Stoke gain 45 points and finish 12th in the table, never being seriously threatened with relegation. Critics of Pulis complained about the style of play but often conceded that the manager had to play a certain way to maximize results. Rory Delap’s long throws became a thing of fascination that season but would in the future prove fodder for the numerous critics Pulis was accumulating.
The 2009-10 season saw Stoke buy several established Premier League performers and finish 11th, again not being threatened by relegation. However, the injury to Aaron Ramsey in February 2010 put Pulis’ tactics into question in the London press. The inquest that followed has not let up in reality since. Stoke’s style, while far from easy on the eye, was keeping the club far away from seriously being threatened by relegation.
In the 2010-11 season, Stoke became more progressive in its play after the signing of Jermaine Pennant. Combined with Matthew Etherington, the two quick and classy wingers gave Stoke a new dimension. The Potters reached the FA Cup Final after smashing Bolton, a side that played “the right way” under Owen Coyle in the Wembley semifinal. Yet Stoke was still unable to shake its reputation. But the reality was the Stoke finished ABOVE Arsenal in the discipline table that season and committed four fewer red card offenses than the Gunners.
The 2011-12 season saw Stoke compete in Europe and quality for the knock-out stages of the Europa League, an immense accomplishment for a club of its size. The need to compete on multiple fronts hurt the team and the Potters resorted to the same negative tactics that had become infamous in the club’s first two Premier League seasons.
This season, Stoke ran out of ideas and made some unwise transfer moves but again survived despite a temporary scare towards the end of April. However, the sense was that the Stoke City supporters were fed up with Pulis’s too conservative tactics, poor substitutions and evasive answers in press conferences.
West Brom (under Tony Mowbray), Burnley and Blackpool all came up to the Premier League in Stoke’s first three seasons up and went right back down despite critics lauding the open and free-flowing football the sides provided. Yet Stoke, attacked by critics consistently for negativity, has not been seriously relegation threatened in Pulis’ tenure. The club serves as a model for responsible spending, savvy tactics to stay in the division and rejecting the advice of critics in the media (and among supporters) and doing what is best to remain in the top flight. It is a model newly promoted sides would be wise to follow.