Stoke Focus – First clean sheet of 2013 but dissent grows

It may not have been pretty but Stoke City have finally achieved their first clean sheet of the year. Having been dubbed “the best defence in Europe” by Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas after the 0-0 draw between the two sides at White Hart Lane back in December, it is incredible to think that game actually marked the last time the Potters shut out the opposition before Saturday’s tepid draw with West Brom at the Britannia.

Make no mistake however, this was not a performance or result that brought much cheer to the Stoke City support, clean sheet or not. Rather, as the hosts produced a display that has become the norm since the turn of the year, they were holding onto the goalless draw as West Brom pushed for a winner, and criticism aimed at boss Tony Pulis rained down from the Britannia stands.

Pulis was quick to praise the supporters in the aftermath of the match before going on to speak of his belief that his side will now kick on after finally moving off the 33 points mark. However, the problem is that with Aston Villa and Southampton claiming victories, as well as the improved form shown by the likes of Fulham, West Ham and Newcastle, there is a fear that Stoke are extremely unlikely to finish the season in their current position of 10th.

Relegation remains an unlikely prospect as the club are 10 points clear of 18th-placed Wigan, albeit with Latics having two games in hand on the Potters. But the feeling of discontent, of staleness, still lingers around the Britannia. Fingers are beginning to be pointed now not just at the manager, but at the players too.

Glenn Whelan was withdrawn at half-time yesterday after yet another ineffectual performance. The Irishman was long been a favourite of Pulis due to his supposed combination of physical doggedness with a cultured passing range. However, in recent weeks we have seen next to nothing of the latter and rather too much of the former.

Peter Crouch has also been a crowd favourite at the Britannia but the fact remains that the 32-year-old has scored only once since late September and is becoming more of a passenger with each passing game. It used to be that even without scoring, Crouch’s mere presence caused havoc for the opposition defence. Not so this season, as West Brom demonstrated with ease.

Pulis’ options from the bench also left a lot to be desired. Dean Whitehead replaced Whelan at the interval but even he is said to be being released upon his contract’s expiration at the end of the season, while Charlie Adam and Kenywyne Jones did nothing to change the pattern of play at the Britannia. Adam, in particular, has been a huge disappointment this season after making a bright start following his summer move from Liverpool. Michael Owen did not even get off the bench.

Stoke may have all but established their position in the Premier League for another season but there can be no doubt that Pulis faces a huge number of problems that must be rectified one way or another if he is to remain at the club for the start of next season.

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