Since Tony Pulis took up the reins as manager of Stoke City for the second time in June 2006, a strong case can be made to support the suggestion that, under his stewardship the club have enjoyed year-on-year progress.
After being sacked in June 2005 by Stoke’s then Chairman, Gunnar Gislason, for apparently showing a reluctance to recruit players based outside the United Kingdom, Pulis returned to the Potters managerial hot seat a year later to guide the club to an eighth-place finish in the 2006-2007 Championship campaign.
Although this represented Stoke’s highest end-of-season league standing since the 1995-1996 season, when Lou Macari led them to 4th in Division 1 – rechristened the Championship in 2004 – it was a performance comprehensively eclipsed the following season as Pulis masterminded the Potters automatic promotion to the Premier League, through finishing second in the Championship.
Subsequently retaining faith in the powerful, unassuming style of play which had formed the basis of Stoke’s return to England’s top flight, Pulis has moulded the Potters into an established Premier League side, who have now entered uncharted territory with regards to their forays in European competition.
Thursday’s 4-1 defeat of FC Thun at the Britannia Stadium secured a comfortable 5-1 aggregate triumph for Stoke over their Swiss opponents and with it passage to the group stages of the Europa League, which will see the Potters face three different sets of opposition, home and away. Since before their tie against Thun, Stoke were required to see off Hadjuk Spilt over two legs, this ultimately means that by the time Christmas falls this year, the Potters will have played 10 European games, a significantly greater haul than the club’s only other two European campaigns combined. In the UEFA Cup competitions of 1972-73 and 1974-75, Kaiserslautern and Ajax respectively, inflicted two-legged first round defeats on Stoke.
Therefore, having already witnessed his side create a new chapter in the club’s history with their emphatic negotiation of the qualifying rounds of this season’s Europa League with four consecutive wins, Pulis can realistically believe that regardless of the opposition, Stoke are capable of making it beyond the group stages, which would be in keeping with the theme of progression the Welshman has instilled in the Potters over the last five years.
Amidst all the excitement surrounding the continuation of Stoke’s European adventure, Pulis must prepare his players for a trip to the Hawthorns on Sunday to face West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League. This task has been made slightly easier for Pulis than it could have been, due to the comfortable nature of the Potters win over Thun – three goals in the space of 15 first-half minutes ending the tie as a contest – meaning he could afford key figures Marc Wilson, Jermaine Pennant and Jonathan Walters a rest in the second-half of the game.
Matthew Etherington and Robert Huth are expected to be fresh for return to the squad having missed the win over Thun through suspension, with Rory Delap’s persistent hamstring problem making him the only confirmed absentee thus far from the pool of players Pulis will rely upon in the Midlands to provide Stoke with their first Premier league win of the season.
See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on West