For everyone connected with Stoke City, the bickering and complaints must now stop. Victory at home to Aston Villa on Saturday afternoon will end the club’s recent poor run and all but secure their Premier League status for another season ahead of a challenging set of end-of-season fixtures.
Should the unthinkable happen and the Potters fall to defeat, then the visitors will close to within only one point of Tony Pulis’ men and then the pressure really will be on, with matches against relegation rivals QPR, Norwich and Sunderland as well as Manchester United and Tottenham to come.
Stoke supporters have become increasingly vocal in their criticism of Pulis and his managerial style in recent weeks. What started out as a minority has quickly become, if not a majority, a sizeable chunk of the fanatical Britannia faithful as their side have slipped to defeat after defeat and poor performance after poor performance.
However, on Saturday afternoon, all that must be forgotten. It must be forgotten that Stoke have increasingly become one of the dullest teams in the league this season. It must be forgotten that their strikers, which include a proven England centre forward in Peter Crouch, have lost their nose for goal. It must be forgotten that Pulis is allegedly too stubborn to change his ways and allow a form of progressive midfield passing rather than simply utilise the long ball.
Those are all debates for another day – a day when Stoke are assured of their place in the 2013/14 Premier League. Should Tony Pulis still be the club’s manager next season? First it must be decided what league the club will be in before any discussion takes place on the destination of the current boss.
The Potters and the Welshman perhaps do need to evolve and allow a little more freedom into the rigidity that can often engulf the Britannia. However, Stoke will not overcome Aston Villa by engaging in Barcelona-style tiki-taka.
What will overawe this young Villa side, who have looked susceptible to the high ball all season long, is the archetypal Stoke City performance. The Britannia, too often a cauldron of quiet, boredom and simmering discontent in recent week, must rock the way it did when Stoke first entered into the Premier League, when it felt as if the loudest fans in the league were capable of sucking balls into the back of the net.
The sort of atmosphere that inspired the Potters into dismantling Liverpool on Boxing Day must be reproduced. Under that sort of pressure, Tony Pulis’ men thrive and it is difficult to see anything other than a callow Aston Villa side crumbling, even if they do have the likes of Christian Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor up front.
All may not be entirely rosy in the Stoke City garden but should the discontent continue and the worst happen on Saturday afternoon, that could realistically mark a return to the Championship next season.
What the players now need more than ever is support, starting with the visit of Aston Villa.
See what the expert tipsters are tipping on OLBG