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Time Is Running Out For Stoke City to Escape Relegation

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?

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  1. Krawmn

    April 10, 2013 at 2:58 am

    I would like to encourage anyone coming to this site to send an email to NBC-Universal regarding your hopes/wishes for coverage of the EPL in the coming years.

    I will plead that they NOT USE a bunch of Fox Soccer or other North American analysts and football news presenters. Rebecca Lowe is welcome, but please none of the people we see currently on any of the networks covering football/MLS. I would rather see analysts from England.

    NBC-Universal contact:

  2. conk khu

    April 10, 2013 at 2:43 am

    Stoke are playing worse that I’ve ever seen and they deserve to go down but I think they will survive but only just

  3. Krawmn

    April 10, 2013 at 2:39 am

    I hope they do go down because, frankly, Wigan are more entertaining. should be Stoke, QPR, and Reading, but might be Stoke, Sunderland, and Reading.

  4. Smokey Bacon

    April 9, 2013 at 7:37 pm

    Wow, all the lamenting on here and you would think they are already down. Reading and QPR are gone so who is going to take the last seat on the bus? Stoke are still in control of their own destiny. Norwich for me look like a good bet to get sucked in. Stoke have enough “quality” to stay up.

    • Guy

      April 9, 2013 at 9:45 pm

      Is that you, Tony?

    • IanCransonsKnees

      April 10, 2013 at 1:05 am

      Said by somebody used to watching highlights of Stoke or reading platitudes about them. Like I say I’ve been there, done that with Stoke and smelt the stench of relegation before, the same scent is wafting around at the minute.

    • Krawmn

      April 10, 2013 at 2:57 am

      yeah, I’m wondering if Norwich have something in their club to knock up a notch. Talksport guys are right on this one: Norwich this season are too conservative, less adventurous, too cautious and are looking like a relegation side right now without any intimation that they can change their style.

  5. Guy

    April 9, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    I would love for us to stay up, but I think that will take at least 3 more points….and barring some weird transformation in the team (or Pulis) I can’t find them in the remaining 6 matches. 🙁

  6. IanCransonsKnees

    April 9, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    An article that really has little depth, powder puff in its reasoning and in all honesty a throwaway piece in my opinion. Stoke are one of those teams that people pay little attention to unless they are upsetting someone else so I guess it’s difficult to write anything significant about them without resorting to cliche and rhetoric a la the top 4 only MOTD pundits and their bretheren. Do some digging and instead of writing about the recent struggle to make a transition in playing styles, look at the transfer fees wasted and the expensive signings bombed out. Look at a fan base wholly against at worst or wholly indifferent at best to his return as our manager. Look at his attitude towards the fans, culminating in snubbing circa 5000 who travelled to Valencia with his team selection. There’s much more that could be said than the glib report provided, and it all leads to the position we and Tony Pulis find ourselves in now.

    Briefly but with a little more colour:

    2010/11 was the season we made the transition from battlers to playing some good football, Pennant and Etherington on either wing providing the ammunition for Walters and Jones up front, culminating in the demolition of a highly fancied (but overrated) Bolton Wanderers at Wembley.

    The following season Tony Pulis wasted £10m on Peter Crouch as an unnecessary replacement for Kenwyne Jones who had proven his worth the previous season. A caveat to the Crouch deal was the £8m signing of Wilson Palacios. A player Pulis subsequently refused to play, citing weather conditions as ‘too windy’ as one excuse.

    Pulis has never really tried to change the way we play he’s just bought more expensive signings to play in the same old system.

    This season he appears to have signed too many characters prepared to disrupt the dressing room, Nzonzi arguing with his colleagues, Adam has been told to find another club and is rumoured to have tried to turn teammates against Pulis. Pennant was dropped and shipped out on loan, given a driving ban it’s alleged he turned up at the training ground driving his own car, giving Pulis the quandary of reporting him to the authorities or turning a blind eye to it. This has been combined with losing strong, influential older characters such as Diao, Delap and Higginbottom.

    However Pulis has always played square pegs in round holes. He’s never signed a full back in 5 years of Premier League football, converting players from other positions. He’s played strikers and defenders as wingers and the only position not tinkered with is that of goalkeeper.

    Since the Southampton 3-3 draw it’s been all about Pulis’ ego,nevidenced by his persistent disjointed team selection and refusal to drop under performing players.

    So far as I’m aware he’s bulletproof with the chairman but the key purse holders long ran out of patience. I expect him to leave whether we stay up or get relegated. If he doesn’t there will be severe unrest without major surgery made to the squad.

    Saturday’s match against Villa was a deserved defeat and the performance best described by a friend who said ‘they looked like a team playing to get him sacked’. It’s a long time since I’ve seen that at Stoke intimate were right. The fight we showed battling to stay up in our first season wasn’t there and we don’t have players prepared to do that anymore. Whether that comes from signing players who’ve been relegated before (Huth, Wilson, Kightly, Jerome, Whitehead) I’m unsure.

    Knowing Stoke we always screw up when there’s something significant to play for. The tv money next year is one thing, more importantly this season is the 150th anniversary of the clubs formation. We’re the oldest top flight team in world football (ask most fans and this has been handled atrociously by our PR people), it’s written in the stars it’ll be remembered for our relegation.

    If we stay up, at this point in time, it’ll be because there are 3 worse teams. I just can’t see that though, and it’ll be despite Pulis not because of him though.

    If we do drop out all I can say is I never expected us to stay past the first season never mind 5. Beating Arsenal 2-1 that year I thought would be as good as it got. Winning 5-0 at Wembley, reaching the FA Cup Final, travelling through Europem were all a million miles away from what I ever expected trudging the depths of League 1. We have owners and an infrastructure set up for Premier League football so hopefully a swift return would occur. I suppose next time we wouldn’t be such a surprise to the establishment. Here’s hoping we will not have to make that effort but as someone with 18 years of season ticket ownership, seeing the good, the bad and the ugly we’ve just gone through the bad and it’s about to turn all Elephant Man.

    • David Lonergan

      April 9, 2013 at 5:36 pm

      To IanCransonsKnees, firstly thank you for your feedback.

      The article was intended as a general piece on Stoke City’s current predicament specifically in relation to playing style, as opposed to an in-depth background study of what’s gone wrong overtime at the club. I’m afraid it is unavoidable that what Stoke are most associated with is the distinct style of play developed under Pulis during his time at the club, which has until this current season brought you relative success.

      The article merely draws upon the clubs situation as a basis to pose the more general question – Is the playing style developed under Pulis outdated and no longer workable at the highest level?
      Even the teams around Stoke in the current relegation battle each appear to be attempting to work towards a playing style more focused on encouraging possession play and pressing, as opposed to physical force and hopeful long balls towards tall, powerful target-men. Of course it’s absolutely no guarantee of success and thus Premier League survival (e.g. It will clearly take Reading more time than they have available to see success under Adkins playing style), however it does point to a significant change in the modern game, not only at Premier League level but through the leagues below.
      I am not stating that one way is better than the other, simply posing the question.

      Also, I am sure you are absolutely correct in that it is not just the style of play where the problems lie and the reason for Stoke’s current plight. It is never simply one factor which can account for everything, and I certainly never intended to suggest as much.

      Otherwise, good points you’ve made and certainly valuable background from a clearly passionate fan.

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