Despite Stoke City’s two consecutive home victories, it was hard to imagine either the supporters or manager Tony Pulis had any real confidence that a first Premier League win on the road in 17 outings was on the cards at high-flying West Bromwich Albion.
However, thanks to Dean Whitehead’s scrappy late goal, the Potters secured their third win on the bounce to take them above the mighty Arsenal and into ninth place, currently only four points off the fourth Champions League place.
It is all a far cry from just under a month ago when, coming off the back of a desperately poor 1-0 defeat at Norwich, Stoke lay 15th and just five points above the drop zone. So what has changed since then? The Potters have certainly not suddenly become a free-flowing attacking force. Indeed, in their five-match unbeaten run, Tony Pulis’ men have only scored a single goal in each of those matches. The 1-0 win at West Brom was even achieved without this season’s star man, Peter Crouch.
However, Crouch’s injury allowed a forgotten man of the Britannia Stadium of late, Kenwyne Jones, a rare opportunity to demonstrate his qualities. The Trinidad and Tobago international certainly did not let his manager down with a battling display and played a huge hand in Whitehead’s winning goal with his tenacious work-rate.
Elsewhere, Pulis’ substitutions, which are often criticised by the club’s supporters, paid dividends for the second time in a week. After Cameron Jerome’s winning cameo against Newcastle in midweek, the introductions of Michael Kightly and Whitehead proved a winning combination, with Kightly’s delivery being tucked in by the central-midfielder, who himself has come under pressure from the demanding Stoke faithful at times this season.
So just how long can this impressive Potters run continue? Promisingly, Stoke’s next five Premier League fixtures sees three of them come at the Britannia against Everton, Liverpool and Southampton respectively. One thing is for certain: backed by their vociferous home support, Tony Pulis’ men will be confident of toppling anyone at the Britannia.
Firstly however, the Potters must negotiate an away clash at Aston Villa next weekend. But judging by the Villains’ struggles this season, as well as the confidence Stoke will surely take from their win at West Brom, Pulis will surely be eyeing at least a point from Villa Park.
Of course, there remains to be areas for improvement. Defensively Stoke are undoubtedly superb but perhaps Kightly’s contribution off the bench is an indication of just what the former Wolves man can produce if given a starting role, particularly if played in tandem with Matthew Etherington on the opposite flank.
However, at the moment, you simply cannot argue with the work that Tony Pulis and his team are doing. Four wins from five, four points off a Champions League place – it’s a good time to be a Stoke City fan at the moment.
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