Club Focus – Stoke – Pulis must get ruthless to stop the rot

Stoke City are in the midst of their worst-ever Premier League run, having taken a total of zero points from their last four Premier League games. The club are on a downward spiral in a tight league, and need a reversal of fortunes quickly – starting with Tuesday’s Midlands derby against Birmingham City at the Britannia Stadium. The Potters were to an extent unlucky once again in defeat to Sunderland on Saturday, as yet another dreadful refereeing oversight denied them a clear penalty – something that has become a weekly occurrence this season. Yet this does not disguise the poverty of Stoke’s performance with a number of sub-par individual performances in every area of the pitch.

Like all good managers, Tony Pulis has shown that he can be ruthless when he has to be, and has no qualms about ditching some of his most loyal or high profile players once he perceives that they have outlived their usefulness. Steve Simonsen , club captain Andy Griffin, one-time record signing Dave Kitson, promotion hero Liam Lawrence and James Beattie, the Potters’ goal-scoring saviour during their maiden Premier League campaign, are further examples of players cast aside by Pulis once he believed their form or attitude were no longer up to scratch.

As the Potteries outfit slide towards the bottom three, there has never been more of a need for Pulis to show that same hard-faced lack of sentiment, and a strong contender to be first on the chopping block is defender Abdoulaye Faye. A lynchpin of that famous 2008/09 campaign, the Senegalese centre back oozed class at the heart of the Stoke defence, marrying composure on the ball with the strength, courage, and all-round teak-toughness to make himself the Potters’ resident terminator. Yet in recent times, the 32-year-old has become a liability, as injuries – and perhaps a touch of complacency – have exposed his lack of pace and revealed a growing carelessness in his defensive play. Of particular concern is the frequency with which Faye appears to switch off and lose the player he has been tasked to mark, both at set pieces and from open play. Faye has been at the centre of goals conceded in Stoke’s last three league defeats, the most recent coming at the Stadium of Light, when he was guilty of ball-watching, drifting away from Nedum Onuoha and allowing Sunderland’s on-loan starlet the space to fashion an opportunity that led to Asamoah Gyan’s ninth minute opener.

Stoke’s defence has proven their achilles’ heel this season, but alternatives to freshen up the back line do exist. Andy Wilkinson is a more natural right back than Robert Huth, and his restoration to the team would allow the German to move inside to his favoured central defensive position in Faye’s stead. Danny Higginbotham meanwhile, has arguably the best organisational skills of any of Stoke’s defenders, and could help to marshall the rearguard while slotting in at either centre back or left back.

With amateurish errors costing the Potters points every week, Tony Pulis cannot afford the luxury of “untouchables” at the moment. That ruthless streak must resurface, before it is too late to save Stoke’s season.

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