Stoke Focus – Pulis’ men emerge from difficult fixture period with credit

Stoke City may have returned from Old Trafford with nothing after falling foul of Manchester United’s talented striking trio of Wayne Rooney, Robin Van Persie and Danny Welbeck, but Tony Pulis will be pleased with the way his side have performed in what will undoubtedly be their most difficult run of fixtures of the season.

The Potters’ first eight league games have seen them face Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Man Utd and so one could have forgiven Stoke for posting a paltry points tally at this stage. Indeed, it has hardly been a rip-roaring start to the season with only one win so far, against a struggling Swansea side, that currently puts Pulis’ men in 13th position, just three points above the drop zone.

However, Pulis will surely see it as an achievement that his side are sitting so comfortably despite the difficult of the fixture list. He will note that from the clashes against the big guns, Stoke were only defeated first by an extremely late goal by Chelsea’s Ashley Cole at Stamford Bridge and then in battling fashion by a 4-2 scoreline at Old Trafford on Saturday.

Indeed, Stoke were arguably unlucky not to take victory from the matches against Manchester City and particularly at Liverpool. Those performances will fill both the players and staff with confidence as they head into an extremely favourable-looking run of games that sees them play four out of seven at the Britannia Stadium, while the away trips come in the shape of Norwich and the newly-promoted West Ham.

Pulis will surely be eyeing maximum points from all four clashes and if the Potters get anywhere that tally then, with no Europa League or League Cup football to distract them, qualification for European football via the league is not out of the question at the Britannia.

The key to the Potters’ ability to make it into the top half, aside from the impressive form of Peter Crouch, will surely rest on the shoulders of captain Ryan Shawcross. Having finally received international recognition with his call-up to the England squad for their World Cup qualifiers with San Marino and Poland, there have inevitably been claims that the 25-year-old could attract the attention of the bigger clubs, particularly with former club Manchester United and Chelsea currently housing concerns over their central defenders.

However, Pulis seems convinced that his skipper will remain at the Britannia and continue his effective partnership with Robert Huth at the back, providing the foundation for the likes of Charlie Adam, Michael Kightly, Matthew Etherington and Crouch to thrive ahead of them.

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