Stoke’s season has been the picture of inconsistency, much to the frustration of Potters’ fans. It’s too often been the case of taking one step forward and then two back. The team has had runs of form in which it looks for all the world that Tony Pulis is progressing the side into a more rounded and measured outfit, before embarking on a slide that sees them flounder through games, desperately attempting to barge their opponent’s goal down through a barrage of set-pieces and long balls.
With the Stoke struggling to emerge from the shadow of their much-maligned approach, dissenting voices have been raised against Pulis, especially as his team slips into the relegation battle. The Potters are just three points above the drop zone now and the woeful displays in their last two league encounters – away at West Ham and at home to West Brom – have seen many fans looking worryingly over their shoulders. There is no denying Pulis’s excellent work at the Britannia Stadium though, having taken the club from relative Championship obscurity to Premier League sanctity in just four-and-a-half years. But managers are so often the victims of their own success, with fans desperate to see their club maintaining progression year on year.
However, any discontent at the Britannia Stadium was replaced with deafening support on Sunday afternoon as they lifted their team to what could turn out to be a season-defining win. The FA Cup is often blamed for having a negative impact on a team’s league form, be it due to fatigue or just plain distraction. But Stoke’s win looks as if it could have the opposite effect. FA Cup runs can unite a town, let alone a team and its fans, and a season that looked like tailing off – perhaps into disastrous relegation woe – now has an added incentive and excitement.
The trip to Wembley in five weeks time is not only a mouth-watering prospect for Potters’ fans, it is also proof for Pulis that his side are indeed progressing into an outfit capable of lifting a major trophy. Overcoming Bolton in the last four would also guarantee Stoke entry into European competition next season for the first time in 37 years. Exciting times then at the Britannia as their season goes from possible relegation dogfight to potential silverware and a place in Europe. The threat of relegation is still very real, but the crowd’s sheer delight at reaching the semi-finals of the FA Cup looks likely to spill over into the side’s league games, and when the fervent Britannia crowd are at their raucous best, the players usually follow suit.