As 2011 draws to a close, Stoke City will look to finish what has been a remarkably successful year for the club, with a win over Wigan at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday. During the past 12 months, Stoke reached an FA cup final for the first time in their 148-year history and although this ended in a 1-0 defeat to Manchester City, it also granted the Potters qualification to this season’s Europa League, in which they have performed brilliantly to make it through to the last 32 of the competition, where Spanish giants Valencia await them. The opportunity to test themselves against such illustrious European opponents early next year is one which Stoke can rightly look forward to with optimism and deserve after their efforts in 2011.
This impressive home form combined with an ability to conjure up results on their travels, has seen Stoke operate in a comfortable position in the Premier League throughout the year, with much more of a focus on occupying a place in the top half of the table rather than being concerned with the relegation zone. After a 13th place finish in last season‘s Premier League, a four-game unbeaten start to this campaign saw Stoke sitting as high as 5th and whilst their position has fluctuated considerably since, they currently lie 8th, holding realistic expectations of securing a first top-half finish since returning to the top flight of English football for the 2008-2009 season.
Stoke’s hopes of achieving this relies not on any one individual, although their ranks do now contain a clutch of influential internationalists, but on the performance of the group of players that Tony Pulis has moulded into a well oiled unit, which does justice to his ability as a manager at Premier League level. Granted, if Peter Crouch were to become the free scoring striker he has both threatened to be at his previous clubs and been for England, then that would be of significant help to Stoke’s cause.
However, the pressure on Crouch to improve upon his somewhat modest goal return is reduced and his overall efforts as a self-less striker fully appreciated by the Stoke faithful, given the consistent and steady contribution of goals forthcoming from various members of the Potters squad. Similarly, this squad has undergone a strengthening in terms of its depth during 2011, to such an extent that it arguably does not display the fragility of those owing to some of the clubs – such as Aston Villa, Everton and Newcastle – who are likely to represent the Potters main rivals for a top half finish in the Premier League this season.
Avenging the 1-0 defeat they endured against Wigan on the final day of last season, when the Latics return to the Britannia Stadium on Saturday, would constitute a fitting end to a year during which Stoke’s reputation as an established Premier League side has grown and further strengthen their prospects of an end-of-season top ten finish.
See what the expert tipsters at OLBG are tipping on Stoke v Wigan