FA Cup – Fourth round
League Cup – Second round
If, at the beginning of the 2012-13 season, you had told Stoke City supporters this would be the final one with Tony Pulis in charge, the majority would have scarcely believed it.
Indeed, when the Potters impressively dispatched Liverpool at the Britannia Stadium on Boxing Day to take their unbeaten streak to nine games – a run that saw Pulis’ defence described by Andre Villas-Boas as the best in Europe – Stoke were just five points off a Champions League spot, and it seemed inconceivable that the manager would be sacked by the end of May.
But a quite horrendous second half of the season, which after a run of only one win from 14 league matches saw Stoke in serious danger of relegation back into the Championship, eventually saw fan pressure that had already been building since the dying embers of last season take its toll.
The Potters would secure survival comfortably enough, with only one defeat in their last five matches of the season leading to another respectable finish. But it still was not enough to convince club owner Peter Coates that a future under Pulis was one to look forward to, and the Welshman was given his marching orders by his great friend and colleague soon after the final game of the season – a 1-1 draw at Southampton.
No one can begrudge the job Pulis has done. He has been a fantastic servant for Stoke City and, without a doubt, it can be questioned whether the club would be the established Premier League force they currently are without him.
However all teams must evolve and fundamentally, the club board, fans and even some of the players appeared to have tired of Pulis’ negative mentality. After so many years in the Premier League, simply surviving on a staple of agricultural, long-ball football and defensive tactics on the road do not garner the same fervour as they once did.
People may argue that other teams such as Fulham or Swansea for example do no better and no worse than Stoke in terms of league position but that still does not stop a Dimitar Berbatov or Bryan Ruiz arriving at Craven Cottage, or a Michu or Pablo Hernandez signing on at the Liberty Stadium.
Where are players that can bring excitement to the entire club at the Britannia? The problem Pulis had was that he couldn’t even point to the issue of limited resources. Since Stoke’s arrival in the top flight, only Manchester City and Chelsea have been bigger net spenders, as Pulis chose to focus on bringing in older, domestic players with little resale value.
Everyone at Stoke would surely have wanted Pulis to stay on if the Welshman had shown the ability to tweak his mentality. Perhaps the issue is that he simply did not want to and that’s aside from the question of whether he had the ability to or not.
Manager – Tony Pulis: It was perhaps not the season that Pulis wished to end his remarkable reign at the Britannia on but for a manager who consistently remarked that securing Premier League survival comfortably counted as a wonderful success, he can at least depart the Potteries knowing that under his management, the club never truly faced a difficult relegation challenge.
Player of the Season – Jonathan Walters: It is difficult to pinpoint a Stoke player that consistently performed all season long. After a wonderful start to the campaign, Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross looked like shadows of their former selves by the end of it. Walters may get some stick for his occasional penalty misses, not to mention his hilarious double own-goal against Chelsea in January, but no one can doubt his ability to cause havoc in the final third and nick vital goals for his side.
Turning point – The 3-3 draw with Southampton: Stoke had been the form side in the Premier League and had defeated Liverpool with ease just three days before the day Southampton came to visit. However, the Potters were strangely subdued and complacent as they defended disastrously to let the visitors race into a 3-1 lead. The hosts would eventually recover to take a point but they never truly recovered from that match.
Any other business: Stoke were once again one of the lowest scorers in the league with only the basement club Queens Park Rangers scoring fewer. No Potters’ player managed to hit double figures in the league with Peter Crouch’s seven a major disappointment considering his pedigree. If it is to be Mark Hughes who will take the helm next season, signing a striker, and perhaps even two, will surely be the priority.