Potters need a new direction
20 April ~ Stoke City's sudden decline has baffled many. The appalling run – one win and six points from the last 14 games – has put the Potters, who have been the poster boys for mid-table security in the five seasons since promotion, in danger of relegation. However, viewed in the wider context, results over the last 18 months have been so bad that the only surprise is that anyone is surprised at all. Last week manager Tony Pulis said he "didn't know what fans had to moan about" but since January 2012 his team have won just ten of their 51 games, scoring 42 goals.
Away from the Britannia Stadium only one game has been won in the last 25. That it seems they have been doing better than this is largely tribute to Pulis's astounding PR job. He has been very clever in portraying "little Stoke City punching above our weight" at every opportunity, conveniently forgetting that thanks to the largesse of chairman Peter Coates he has been the fourth-highest net spender in the Premier League since 2008.
Despite being allowed to spend nearly £100 million, the squad he presides over is staggeringly unbalanced, containing no specialist left-back and leaving defender Ryan Shotton playing as a winger. The manager speaks of trying to evolve. What this actually means is that every summer he brings in expensive players, gets them to play in the same system he always uses and discards them when they are ineffective.
After the defeat to Manchester United he talked of a five-game season starting at QPR today. It was Harry Redknapp who gave Pulis his first coaching job and the two are still close; both might be looking for new jobs in the summer. Pulis has always (despite what the media think) been a deeply divisive figure among fans, with roughly a third who adore him, a third who can't stand him and a third who change their minds depending on results. It's difficult to see him remaining as manager much past May, whatever the outcome in the remaining matches. To correct another misconception, it's not that fans want Stoke to play passing football but attacking occasionally might be nice.
As last season meandered to its close there was a sense that something different was needed. As clubs at the bottom of the Premier League have hired and fired managers in a desperate bid to keep their place in the money pit that the new TV deal has created – today's hosts included – there is a feeling that at Stoke City we have hung onto ours just a few months too long. Andy Thorley