Against the odds

August 8, 2008
By Dominic Raynor
(Archive)

Nobody expected Stoke City to get promoted from the League Championship last season so manager Tony Pulis will not be too bothered that nobody expects his side to still have their Premier League status intact this time next year.

GettyImagesPulis has never been relegated.

Criticised for their robust style of play by their promotion rivals in the Championship it is that very same tactic that could serve them well in the Premier League.

Lambasted as 'direct' and 'physical' they are sure to ruffle a few feathers amongst the pampered stars of the Premier League and may well pick up some points along the way; whether they can win enough to stay up with such a limited approach is another matter entirely.

It worked for many years for Sam Allardyce's Bolton Wanderers, but the Trotters could also call on the guile of a Youri Djorkaeff , El-Hadji Diouf or an Ivan Campo; Stoke cannot.

If the Potters attempt to get the ball down and out-pass the more illustrious, and even the mediocre, teams in the English top flight they are not going to come out on top. They must stick to what they know and do well.

The team is geared to a certain style and with the likes of giant striker Jon Parkin, target man Mamady Sidibe, and the battling Richard Cresswell, up front their strength is certainly getting quick-ball up to the 'big men'.

Having said that, Pulis has added some more silk to his rough and tumble attack with the acquisition of Dave Kitson from Reading. The £5.5million fee paid for the ginger-haired striker was a new club record for the Potters.

Prolific during his early years at the Royals Kitson's time in the Premier League with the club was blighted by injury but he did continue to net sporadically. His pace and power will prove to be a great asset for the Potters and if he can strike up a partnership with one of Stoke's imposing target men then the club have a fighting chance.

At the other end of the pitch Pulis has brought in 32-year-old goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen to add some Premier League experience between the posts. Although his predecessor, and former Everton goalkeeper, Steve Simonsen has played in the top flight his first team football during that time was limited.

It is difficult not to feel a little sympathy for Simonsen, who set new club record for clean sheets during the 2006/07 season and was an ever-present as Stoke won promotion; but if Pulis is to construct a team capable of remaining in the Premier League there is no place for sentiment.

The Welshman has already dispensed with the services of veteran goalkeeper Russell Hoult and has also ditched the likes of Dominic Matteo, Marlon Broomes and Adam Garrett as he attempts to freshen up his squad.

GettyImages / MatthewLewisDave Kitson: The new boy.

Sorensen brings invaluable experience and was first choice at Martin O'Neill's Aston Villa until a dispute between the duo resulted in the Danish international being relegated to the bench for the entirety of the last campaign. The former Sunderland goalkeeper's organisational skills could prove vital in forming a cohesive defensive unit at the Britannia Stadium.

Although the likes of Andy Griffin and Leon Cort helped marshal one of the better defences in the Championship last term, keeping the likes of Fernando Torres and Wayne Rooney at bay is obviously a step up. We all saw how Derby County floundered and then disappeared without a trace last season and humiliation is something the club from the Potteries are keen to avoid.

The manager, Pulis, has never been relegated and although he has already proven one facet of his reputation - that of taking a club beyond its means - keeping the former claim intact will be a much tougher task.

Once a cohort of Portsmouth boss Harry Redknapp, at Bournemouth, Pulis has a similar attitude to bringing in a host of new faces to a club and a raft of loan deals, some of which have subsequently been made permanent, helped Stoke to throw off the shackles of the annual relegation battle and win promotion.

The man from Newport could once again turn to the loan market to bolster his squad for the coming season and it would be no surprise to see a glut of Redknapp-style last minute deals on transfer deadline day.

With a small budget, and the odds against him, Pulis has been in this position before but it is difficult to predict success for the 50-year-old this time around.


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