Huth has made it clear that he does not like playing at full back and the relatively few games he has played in central defence have demonstrated his class in this position, letting little get past him and fully justifying his “Berlin Wall” nickname. His fine showings in the centre have been worlds apart from the awkward, positionally suspect showings the German has turned in at right back, which have cost Stoke several times already this season. Pulis had nevertheless persisted with Huth on the right side of the Midlanders’ back four, but Andy Wilkinson’s recent run in the side, coupled with a few auditions for Dean Whitehead in the role when Wilkinson’s fitness issues have forced him off, suggest that the Stoke manager has finally abandoned the experiment of using Huth there.
Pulis’ admission is significant for several reasons. First, it seems to spell the end of the line for Abdoulaye Faye. The 32-year-old Senegalese defender’s decline since sweeping the board at the club’s player of the year awards just two seasons ago has been dramatic. Instrumental in the Potters’ comfortable survival during their maiden Premier League season, Faye has become something of a liability over the last year. He has failed to regain his place after picking up an injury in November, and with his contract due to expire in the summer, it seems that Faye’s future lies away from the Britannia Stadium.
It is also interesting to note that Pulis did not mention the form of Andy Wilkinson as one of the reasons why he is content to move Huth back inside. The Stone-born right back has been excellent when called on this term, but endorsement from his manager has been conspicuous by its absence. Similarly, highly-rated youngster Ryan Shotton, who had seemed set to make his long-awaited Premier League bow after appearing on the bench at Wigan, is now expected to go out on loan again to a Championship club in the New Year.
These developments suggest that a new right back is a priority for the Potters boss with the January transfer window approaching. The burning question is whether Pulis will look for an out and out full back, or another centre back to play in that position. Although the likes of Andy Griffin, Stephen Kelly and John Halls have demonstrated that Pulis is not averse to using specialist right backs, his preference for the height and strength a centre back offers in that slot in both defence and attack is well known. Stoke lack defenders capable of bringing the ball out of defence, and the arrival of at least one quality full back might go some way towards addressing the team’s ongoing problem with ball retention. While Chairman Peter Coates might have suggested a quiet window lies ahead in ST4, it seems a distinct possibility that a new face will be settling into the right back slot come the start of February.