As Stoke City’s fourth season in the Premier League draws to a close, they occupy familiar territory. In the past three seasons the Potters have finished 12th, 11th and 13th, with points totalling 45, 47 and 46 respectively. With four games remaining, Stoke occupy 14th with 43 points and a game in hand over the congested group of teams either side of them.
Despite incorporating a more attractive style of play and considerable investment allowing recruitment from further up the football food chain, they appear unable to progress beyond their current plateau. Tony Pulis’ charges still have a mathematical chance of reaching as high as seventh, but so have eight other teams. The difference is however that Stoke have outspent most of their rivals, raising the question of whether they are underachieving.
In a consistently inconsistent season, Stoke have been more unpredictable than most. At the Britannia Stadium they have taken points off Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City and most recently Arsenal in Saturday’s 1-1 draw, beaten both Liverpool and Spurs, yet also lost at home to both QPR and West Brom. They’ve won at Everton plus drawn at White Hart Lane and Anfield, yet lost at Swansea and Wigan. Last year’s charge to the FA Cup final and this season’s European adventure have certainly taken their toll, with Stoke’s heaviest defeats this term, 4-0 at Sunderland and 5-0 at Bolton, arriving after midweek fixtures in Kiev and Tel-Aviv.
In response to a recent league outing, a heavy 3-0 defeat at Newcastle, Pulis addressed Stoke’s patchy form in an interview with Sky
In many respects, Stoke provide the benchmark for sides promoted. They built a team capable of navigating the Championship and have fashioned a solid, capable Premier League side. It should not however be unreasonable to harbour higher domestic aspirations and year on year progress. The next step is to break in to the top 10 and challenge for a return to European competition. In such a mediocre campaign, they would appear to have missed a golden opportunity this season.
A lack of firepower appears to be restricting their progress and an influx of more proficient attacking options is likely to dominate Stoke’s summer spending plans. Peter Crouch’s 14 goals have capped an impressive first season at the club, but there is a reliance on his continued prowess, as Cameron Jerome, Kenwyne Jones and Jonathan Walters appear ill-equipped to shoulder the goal scoring burden.
Stoke City’s jaunts to Wembley and across Europe have masked their inability to make strides in the Premier League. They represent a formidable opponent on their day, but consistency remains elusive. Further investment is required in the summer and a tangible return on that investment is a reasonable expectation. You can only tread water for so long, eventually you will start to sink.
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