THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Thursday 5 March ~

With roughly ten games remaining, forecasts will start to be made as to who should be the Premier League manager of the season. Alex Ferguson, on the verge of his 11th English title as his dominant Manchester United side march unerringly towards a third consecutive championship, will be high in the reckoning. Likewise Martin O'Neill, who has enjoyed an excellent season with Aston Villa with his side threatening to break the dominance of the supposed top four by qualifying for next season's Champions League in fourth place ahead of Arsenal. There will be calls for David Moyes at Everton, who despite terrible injuries all season look set for Europe again, sitting comfortably sixth in the table.

However, if Tony Pulis manages to keep Stoke up in their first season in the top flight in 23 years, despite being written off as relegation fodder by everyone at the start of the season, he would get my vote without a doubt. There were another vital three points for the home side at the Britannia Stadium last night with a defeat of Bolton, taking their impressive haul in home matches to 25 points, including seven wins. Although only their second success in 14 League games, goals from James Beattie and Ricardo Fuller saw the Potters rise from 19th to 15th – a massive shot in the arm for their survival hopes. Beattie has fired five goals in seven games since his January move up from the Championship, switching the red and white of Sheffield United for that of Stoke. If survival in the Premier League is worth £30 million upwards, his transfer for £3.5m looks a masterstroke. The game was another example of just how difficult Tony Pulis's men are to face on their own turf – beaten just once in 11 League games, and that a late defeat to title-bound Manchester United on Boxing Day, and by just two other sides, Everton and Chelsea, all season.

With their next three home games against other teams in the relegation mix, Stoke can conceivably go some way to pulling clear of the drop zone and towards the safety of mid-table. First up, struggling Middlesbrough, who despite last weekend's impressive 2-0 victory over Liverpool are still on a terrible run away from home – just two wins and eight goals all season and a damaging 4-0 defeat in the capital against Tottenham last night testament to that. Pulis's side then visit West Brom, who, propping up the table and falling away quickly, will be under pressure to win at all costs. Next visiting the Britannia Stadium come a Newcastle team that are dropping like a stone. Managerless and with just one win in ten, they won't fancy going to a ground that has so far seen the likes of Aston Villa, Arsenal, Manchester City and Tottenham leave empty-handed. Sam Allardyce takes his Blackburn bruisers to face Stoke the following weekend in another six-pointer at the bottom.

Of the current top five teams in the League, Stoke face just one in their remaining games, a trip to Arsenal on the last day. Their rivals however have a far harder run-in. Newcastle will take on four of the top five with last night's defeat at home to Alex Ferguson's champions-elect kicking off a difficult run-in. Hull face three games against the top clubs, including Manchester United on the last day. Middlesbrough have play Arsenal and Man Utd over consecutive weekends in April, while Blackburn still have to travel to Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea. As mentioned, the last day of the season gives Stoke a difficult away game to Arsenal at the Emirates and points will surely need to be in the bag by then – but they might yet go into the game with their safety assured. Chris Hill

Comments (4)
Comment by The Exploding Vole 2009-03-05 12:30:26

I really like the wee cartoons that accompany the daily stories.

What are the beasts below the man holding the rope meant to represent? And are they alligators or crocodiles?

Comment by Portmuthian_Blue 2009-03-05 21:38:26

If stoke stay up, it'll be a sad day for football. They're so direct, the two central midfielders never have to touch the ball. The sad thing is I'm not exaggerating.

Comment by salamander 2009-03-06 00:57:05

The Premiership needs the whole gamut of footballing styles to prove that Clubs with less capable players are still able to compete in what is the best league in the world and that money is not the be all and end all. Good luck to Stoke City. I follow Newcastle United and have long been of the opinion that James Beattie could have been (maybe still could be) our new Alan Shearer.

Comment by imp 2009-03-06 13:42:22

Mr. Vole, I assume the reptiles represent the precarious nature of football management in the modern game. Too many bad results and you're EATEN ALIVE hahahahahahaha. The one on the right is a crocodile, the one on the left is an alligator (clearly it has a thinner snout). I don't know how well crocs and gators get on together, though, so it's hard to say if this is a realistic representation of the natural world. Would they cooperate in tearing the manager's flesh apart, or would they fight each other over who gets his kidneys and liver, allowing our sacked boss to swim for the shoreline and escape to League 2?

I'm all for having teams like Stoke in the Premier League. Just don't ask me to actually watch them.

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