Stoke Focus – Tony Pulis could be showing players too much loyalty

At times it can seem rather blasphemous to criticise Tony Pulis at Stoke City, particularly if you are one of the club’s own supporters. What that man has done to turn the Potters from a mid-table Championship side to a stable Premier League outfit, which has even ventured into Europe, is quite remarkable.

All but a small dissenting number of Stoke supporters would have complete faith in Tony Pulis as the club’s manager, but the same may not be true of their complete faith in the Welshman’s team selection at times in this campaign.

In what has been a slow and, at times, rather difficult start to the season for the Potters, Pulis has at times been accused of being far too rigid in both of his selection and formation. In particular, he has retained far too great a loyalty to certain players when just a little variety could help turn fortunes around.

Firstly, Stoke’s attacking prowess, while never the most electric in the division, has certainly dimmed somewhat this season. Their record as one of the league’s lowest goalscorers is testament to that. Admittedly, Pulis would argue that his efforts to rework his attacking line-up by bringing in Michael Owen has, at the moment, sadly been a failed move due to the striker’s fitness issues.

However, while Jon Walters may always give everything for the cause, it has become evident in recent weeks that he has just begun to flag somewhat in Stoke’s system. While Kenywne Jones and Peter Crouch may not seem like the ideal partnership on paper, would it not hurt for Pulis just to throw them together one more time? Lest we forget that before Crouch, Jones was actually Stoke’s record signing.

Another striker, one who would importantly add a little bit more pace to the Potters’ rather staid attack, is Cameron Jerome. Again however, he rarely appears to be given a look-in ahead of Walters and is instead being bandied about on loan to Championship clubs. As good as Walters has been for the club, Pulis’ loyalty to a player so clearly out of form must be questioned.

A similar issue arises in midfield. Again, the Potters have hardly been the most creative side in the middle of the park since their arrival in the Premier League but the arrivals of Charlie Adam and Steven N’Zonzi in the summer seemed to hint that Pulis was heading in a new direction. However, while the two of them have been near ever-presents, it has not been as most would have expected: with Michael Kightly and Matthew Etherington either side of them.

Rather, Adam, as far from a wide player as you could possibly get, has often been found out on the right or left wing to accommodate either Dean Whitehead or Glen Whelan in central midfield. Again, while both may have been excellent players for Stoke in the past, football moves on and certainly, alongside N’Zonzi, neither offers the creative inspiration or indeed general excitement that Adam would, flanked by two speedy wide men.

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