23 November ~ Stoke City's tenure in the Premier League has been epitomised by a rock-solid defence. This has often counterbalanced a lack of creative flair and goal threat from open play, enabling the team to record three mid-table finishes and achieve European qualification as losing Cup finalists. The Britannia Stadium has become famous as one of the least appealing away days for even the strongest sides, but as QPR became the latest team to make a mockery of a once-rigid backline at the weekend, mutterings of discontent could be heard coming from the stands. Predictably, much of the fans' ire has been directed at the manager.

Despite the amazing success that Tony Pulis has brought to the club since chairman Peter Coates reinstated him in 2006, he has remained a divisive figure among the fanbase. "This manager has taken us as far as he can," commented the slightly eccentric old chap sat next to me as Heidar Helguson capitalised on some shocking defending to put QPR 3-1 up.

He is definitely not alone in this opinion. Some supporters – many of whom were probably singing Pulis's name at Wembley on May 14 – have ludicrously started to call for his head. Some are already peeved about the apparent reluctance to play expansive football, particularly away from home. Four consecutive league defeats, in which the side have shipped 14 goals, have pushed a growing minority of followers over the edge.

More level-headed fans who still harbour painful memories of demoralising third-tier thrashings by the likes of Bristol Rovers a little more than a decade ago are slightly more forgiving. That said, Pulis has to take some of the blame for Stoke's current plight. Pundits are blaming the ongoing Europa League campaign for Stoke being out of sorts, but to the City faithful, it is obvious there is more to the recent demise than regular Thursday-night football.

Constant meddling with the back four to accommodate the less-than-impressive Jonathan Woodgate can't be good for the overall confidence of the team. Even though Pulis dropped the shaky goalkeeper Asmir Begovic and also reverted to many fans' favoured centre-back pairing of Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross against QPR, Thomas Sorensen and the defensive quartet in front of him often looked like strangers. The decision not to address the pressing need to install two natural full-backs since promotion also appears to be affecting the balance of the side, with all three of QPR's goals emanating from wide positions. However, the main cause for concern is the centre of midfield.

Looking around the games taking place in the Premier League this weekend, you would be hard pressed to find a less inspiring midfield pairing than Dean Whitehead and Rory Delap. Joey Barton and Alejandro Faurlin had far too much time and space to pick out their colleagues, which makes the continued omission of Wilson Palacios – a proven battler who also has an eye for a pass – even more baffling. A few top-flight sides can afford to have an £8 million midfielder sat on their bench. Despite some lavish summer spending, Stoke are certainly not one of them.

I'm loath to pay too much attention to lingering rumours of dressing room unrest pedalled by the likes of Stan Collymore on TalkSport without a shred of substantial evidence, but such tales – no matter how frivolous – are unlikely to help the cause. Pulis has had his issues with troublesome footballers in the past, but now more than ever, he needs unity from players and fans alike and he must learn from his own mistakes more quickly if the club are to emerge from this current rut. Lee Wagstaff

Comments (8)
Comment by Paul Rowland 2011-11-23 12:32:38

I do hope that Stoke can rediscover their mojo and manage to stay in the Premier League. Just my opinion, this - Stoke are a proper Premier League team. Stoke are not a Football League team. They are simply not cut out for life in the Football League. They'd be like a fish out of water down here. Y'see, the thing is, it's called the Football League for a reason. The clue's in the name. The FOOTBALL League. Know what I'm saying?

(It's the same every year isn't it? We give the Premier League the silky delights of Blackpool, Norwich, QPR, Swansea etc etc... and what do they want to give us in return? A selection of knuckle-scraping neanderthals like Stoke Blackburn Bolton and Wolves. THANKS BUT NO THANKS. YOU CAN KEEP 'EM.)


Comment by jonmid 2011-11-23 12:51:56

Paul since you admitted that you do not watch Stoke you cannot possibly comment on Stoke's footballing ability and incidentally QPR, Norwich and Sawnsea are doing alright for themsleves and will probably stay up

Comment by HORN 2011-11-23 13:09:44

I doubt there are too many Newport-born Port Vale fans knocking about, but I'll go out on a limb and say I speak for most of us.

I genuinely reviled Stoke City in the 80s and 90s. An awful team of players, they were. The switch to red shorts somehow made them even more revolting, more clumsy. I rejoiced in their downfall.

But then they go and employ a Newport-born manager and start sticking their fingers in the eye of established PL clubs. And so I can't help but like them. A bit.

Of course it helps that Vale and Stoke's rivalry is lightyears away from ever reigniting.

So go for it, Tony Pulis. Go for it, Stoke City. You are unkempt interlopers who have travelled to the Premier League from the distant past. And every point you take from the cartel seems like a point for every football league club who aspire to follow in your footsteps.

Just send a few of those points to Vale Park when you've some spare.

Comment by tempestinaflathat 2011-11-24 12:41:48

"This manager has taken us as far as he can"

Yes, I remember hearing a number of Charlton fans saying exactly the same thing about Alan Curbishley. Seemed a stupid thing to come up with then, too.

Comment by jonmid 2011-11-24 13:57:59

yeah and look what them happened to them

Comment by JimDavis 2011-11-24 14:19:41

Oh dear, and they don't play the Baggies again until January 21. That's a long time to wait for a next win.

Comment by jameswba 2011-11-24 21:26:54

'Oh dear, and they don't play the Baggies again until January 21. That's a long time to wait for a next win.'

Even if they lose every single game till then, they'll still win that one. Guaranteed. I think it's significant that Albion's only league win over Stoke since 1988 was under Megson - one manager who knew how to give them a dose of their own medicine.

Johnmid, QPR, Norwich and Swansea are doing fine now but I'm 100% sure one of them at least will go down. If not, it spells very serious trouble for one or both of Wolves or WBA, because I really don't think all of Bolton, Blackburn or Wigan will go. Stoke won't either, which should keep both Lee and Paul happy, for their different reasons.

Comment by trojan 2011-11-25 16:00:46

If I was a Stoke fan I'd stick with Pulis and if I was Pulis I'd buy some decent full-backs. We had three full-backs on the pitch on Saturday, Traore, who looks like an absolute bargain playing left wing and Luke Young scoring the second. Wigan and Blackburn look fairly certain for the drop, but you never know. I don't think Stoke will go down.

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