It may seem unthinkable, remarkable – almost outrageous – but towards the end of Stoke’s defeat at home to West Ham last Saturday, a small “Pulis Out” banner was unfurled by a section of home fans at the Britannia.
Without doubt, it would be harsh to say the least were the Welshman under any real pressure for his job and quite rightly, Potters chairman Peter Coates has come out in recent days to give full support to the manager that has taken Stoke from the depths of the Championship into the top half of the Premier League, an FA Cup final and European Football. Clearly, to even suggest that the 55-year-old could lose his job at the Britannia would border on lunacy.
However, Pulis will be more aware than anyone of the way Stoke’s season has gradually disintegrated from the high point of their victory over Liverpool in late December to the undoubted low that was their timid defeat against a West Ham side that had not won away from home in the league since November.
Nobody would dare to doubt Stoke’s fans, whose fanatical support has been vital to the team’s success in recent years, particularly their formidable home record, which still stands at only two league defeats this season despite the last reverse to the Hammers. They are as aware of where the club has come from and how grateful they should be for the way Pulis has revolutionised their club’s fortunes.
However, the sticking point for supporters is that now after five seasons as an established Premier League force that has never really looked likely to end in relegation, the time for simply being “grateful” to be in the big time has passed.
This is perhaps where Pulis, his staff and his players can be criticised. Often they can give off the impression that staying up is the be all and end all for the club. That is fine if you are a Wigan Athletic for example, with small crowds, little financial muscle to speak of, constantly in and around the relegation zone and always in danger of losing your best players to the leading lights.
However, to Pulis’ credit it must be said, Stoke are none of these things. Their crowds are formidable, packed-out almost every week at the Britannia. They retain the ability to spend big when required, as Pulis has shown with his purchases of the likes of Peter Crouch and Wilson Palacios.
In addition, the Potters are never in any real relegation trouble and when was the last time a player was prised away from the Britannia? Indeed, Stoke have actually managed to hold on to many of their biggest assets thus far, such as Asmir Begovic, Ryan Shawcross and Matthew Etherington.
Simply, Pulis must begin to aim a little higher. Being grateful to stay in the Premier League, almost throwing away the possibility of results away from home with negative game plans and banking on their home form is beneath what Stoke City are now. If Pulis does not to come to terms with this, then we could conceivably see more “Pulis Out” banners at the Britannia in the near future.
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