Stoke City Club Focus – Encouraging signs for Pulis after battling Norwich draw

At the outset of this season, few would have blamed the Stoke City faithful for being slightly concerned as to the suitability of their club’s squad to handle the demands of competing domestically and in the Europa League. Indeed, if Stoke are to enhance their reputation on the European stage, whilst simultaneously remaining a strong force in the Premier League, then Tony Pulis will almost certainly have to be successful in his endeavours to add several quality members to Stoke’s current playing staff, before the transfer window closes on August 31.

However, as Pulis examines and explores potential new recruits, he can justifiably take great heart from the way in which largely the same squad – apart from Jonathan Woodgate and Matthew Upson – he relied upon last season, emerged from their first Europa League-Premier League double header undefeated. Following a 1-0 victory in the first leg of their qualifier for the Europa League group stages against FC Thun in Switzerland on Thursday, Pulis astutely reshuffled his team for Sunday’s trip to Norwich City, where the Potters conjured up an injury time equaliser to salvage a 1-1 draw.

On his own admission Pulis conceded that those players playing their second game in less than 72 hours were a “little flat” and “leg-weary” in the first-half against Norwich but no such lethargy was evident after the interval, as Stoke seized control of the game and eventually got the reward their perseverance deserved through a 94th minute Kenwyne Jones header. Although they enjoyed a one man numerical advantage for the last half hour of the game, after Norwich’s Leon Barnett was controversially sent off, there can be no denying the mental and physical strength the Stoke players displayed to register their second point of the Premier League season. The patience shown in the build-up to Stoke’s equaliser, which culminated in Jones flashing a header into the net from Glenn Whelan’s perfectly weighted cross, was in itself testament to the excellent match fitness levels the Potters pre-season schedule produced.

To elaborate on this point, manager Pulis arranged for virtually the same squad which triumphed 1-0 over Hajduk Spilt in the first of Stoke’s Europa League qualifying games at the Britannia stadium in July, to play against Sheffield Wednesday in a Hillsborough friendly less than 48 hours later, as he endeavoured to prepare his troops to cope with the rigours that come with playing two games in quick succession. Early indications are that Pulis has done well in this task and he will again be keen for his side to exhibit their readiness to compete in Europe when they play FC Thun at the Britannia Stadium on Thursday followed by another Sunday Premier League away trip, this time to face West Bromwich Albion.

Whilst there is little doubt that Stoke will be far better set to embark upon successful domestic and European campaigns should they manage to strengthen their squad before the closure of the transfer window, the manner in which the Potters have prepared for and applied themselves to this season so far does justice to the sterling work of their manager.

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