With Stoke once again firmly safe in the knowledge that they would be playing Premier League football again next season, the visit of the similarly placed West Ham to the Britannia was never going to be a clash that would make the headlines.
However, Tony Pulis will have earmarked three points as a way of signifying that, despite the relative comfort of the Potters’ current league position, his side would not be accepting survival as the soil sum of their season.
In recent weeks, both Pulis and his players have been criticised not quite for their understandable desire to remain in the Premier League at all costs, but rather that now in their fifth season in the top flight, that perhaps a little more progress should be achieved upon securing their elite division status; that there appeared to be a lack of desire from both the manager and players to make that step up into the upper echelons of the league.
However, all the pre-match talk fell flat as Stoke produced a lifeless performance, certainly not the sort we have become accustomed to over the years from Tony Pulis’ men. Rather, it one that has become all too common since the turn of the year, when supporters will be keen to point out that their Premier League status was all but assured for yet another season.
Pulis may correctly point out that the 1-0 defeat, courtesy of a Jack Collison strike on the stroke of half time, was only Stoke’s second reverse at home this season in the league but the performance was a disappointing one all round for the Potters and the result ultimately was a deserved one, despite Charlie Adam striking the crossbar late on.
Indeed, it should not be forgotten that West Ham were forced into making two chances in the first 11 minutes due to injuries suffered by Matt Taylor and Joe Cole and, were it not for some hesitant finishing from Ricardo Vaz Te, could well have won by a more emphatic scoreline.
Pulis will point to a couple of penalty decisions that correctly did not go his side’s way while clearly, the pace and creativity of Matthew Etherington on the flanks was sorely missed but frankly, neither the manager nor the players appeared to have the ideas or the conviction to get back into the game.
Are too many Stoke City players in a comfort zone? It seems inconceivable considering the way Pulis manages to rev them up at certain points of the season. That begs the question whether the manager himself is simply in too much of a comfort zone after survival is secured.
Nobody is suggesting that the Welshman should be put under any pressure considering what he has done for the club but surely it would not hurt if greater targets were suggested by those above him. Yes, Premier League survival is paramount but as it has now become so eminently achievable, the real challenge is to aim higher and attempt even further progress. One only hopes that it is not fear that is holding the Potters back.
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