December 29, 2012
Pulis wants European return
Team Stat Comparison
|Goals for *||1.1||1.2|
|Goals against *||1.2||1.9|
|Last 5 home||L-W-L-L-D||D-L-D-W-W|
|Last 5 away||D-D-W-L-L||D-L-D-W-D|
|* Goals per match - home matches for home club and away matches for away club|
|Stats: Stoke City | Southampton|
Stoke manager Tony Pulis is targeting a return to the Europa League as reward for their good form this season.
The Potters have never finished in the top half of the Barclays Premier League since their promotion in 2008, but are eighth and just five points off the top four at the half-way stage of the season.
Stoke qualified for Europe as 2011 FA Cup runners-up but Pulis believes they have every chance of earning a return on the merit of their league position.
"It's something we should aim for and I'm sure players and fans alike would relish the challenge if we ever got there again,'' he said.
"That's not to overlook how tough it was with the number and timing of the games and how that affected our league form. It takes a lot to get used to games coming thick and fast on a Thursday and then a Sunday, not to mention the fact they kindly gave us away games in the league after virtually every away game in Europe - and they were long trips.
"But having the odds against us is what gets us going as a club, and that includes our fans.''
However, Pulis has warned his players they cannot afford to get ahead of themselves after the Boxing Day victory over Liverpool extended their unbeaten league run to 10 matches, one short of equalling the club's top-flight record.
They host struggling Southampton on Saturday and Pulis stressed the importance of remaining focused.
"In many respects the Southampton game will be the toughest of the two because of the raised expectations,'' he told The Sentinel. "Southampton are giving it a good go and they will be a big challenge for us, especially if we are not up for the game.
"The other night was tremendous for everyone, and the players deserved their praise for the wonderful effort they put in. But that is gone and now we have to raise ourselves for another challenge.''
Maya Yoshida might be expecting a "really tough game'' but is confident Southampton can end the hosts' long unbeaten home record.
Tony Pulis' side are unbeaten in 16 league games at the Britannia Stadium following their comprehensive 3-1 defeat of Liverpool on Boxing Day.
"It will be a really, really tough game I think,'' the Japan international said. "Stoke have not lost a home game this season.
"They have many, many tall guys so it will be a more physical game.
"We have to give away less free-kicks, corner kicks and deep throw-ins otherwise they will put many, many long balls in the box. We have to think about this.
"Of course every time I want to win a game but this time it would be really nice because they haven't lost a home game (for a long time).''
It will prove an interesting test for a Southampton defence that has shown signs of improvements recently.
After conceding 28 goals in their first 10 games back in the Premier League, they have conceded just six in their last eight matches.
"The big reason is playing with the same players and for a long time,'' Yoshida said.
"The first time I played when I came here was in September so I had not enough time to make good communication.
"Jos Hooiveld had an injury and also many, many left- and right-backs had injuries.
"But now we play the same team and we play the same members for a long time. That is important, that continuity.''
Adam Lallana will be on the sidelines once again.
The Saints captain picked up a knee problem against Reading on December 8 and has not featured since.
Manager Nigel Adkins revealed one or two unnamed players picked up knocks in the 1-1 draw with Fulham on Boxing Day, but expects them to be available at the Britannia Stadium.