Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Stoke would be crazy to bin Pulis now

Tony Pulis' long ball game is horrible to watch, but Stoke would be mad to sack their manager before the end of the season

If you asked any football fan which team in the Premier League they least liked watching I'd almost guarantee Stoke City would be top of the list. You can never be 'sure' while Sam Allardyce manages in the top division ...

But Stoke have been 'painful' for as long as I can remember and the only relief you gained from going to the Britannia Stadium was seeing and hearing the best supporters in the country. Pound for pound, I can't think of any better for creating such a positive atmosphere.

Sadly, that isn't the case at the moment. On Saturday, Stoke players were booed off at half-time and full-time and there were jeers every time City played the ball long which, generally, is an awful lot.

Much the most despondent callers to my last ever 6-0-6 – it's no big deal, nothing lasts forever and think of how much better referees will sleep in their beds at night – were 'Potters'.

It isn't because they're in the bottom three: they're not, they lie 15th. But the form is terrible, even worse than Sunderland's, who actually showed a mini-resurgence at Stamford Bridge in Di Canio's first game, certainly in the first half.

Stoke, aside from beating Reading, which everyone's doing, haven't won a league game since Boxing Day. And it's form that's getting to the fans.

I have to say they weren't moaning much about Tony Pulis and his Neanderthal tactics when they reached the FA Cup Final, played in Europe and sat easily in mid-table.

You can put up with quite a lot when you're winning as many games as you're losing. So what if you're berated most everywhere else in the land? Now, it grates.

The charge is that the manager plays only one striker at home, either Peter Crouch or Kenwyne Jones. Like the one left out, Michael Owen gets to rest his bum on the bench. No wonder he's decided if he can't get into this team he may as well call it quits.

And, of course, there's the 'long ball'. Now there's nothing wrong with that if it's a 'good' long ball but Stoke play it more than most and, usually, overwhelmingly, it isn't.

The Pulis approach, now it's not working, is seen as what it is: belonging to a different age, a long-gone era.

The signs are that, if Stoke survive, most fans will still want him out but to do it at this moment would be madness. I think they may get out of the mess they're in.

Yes, they play Manchester United next but why shouldn't Stoke muscle their way to points at QPR, sinking into despondency, at home to Norwich and, critically, away to Sunderland?

However bad they've been, they're three points above the drop zone and still ahead of Aston Villa, the team they lost to at the weekend.

Then, staying up or not, deal with the 'Pulis problem' in the summer. I'd hate to lose those fans.

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