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Stoke Keep Defying Expectations
Posted Mar 17, 2011 by Shaun Edwards
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Stoke City are a peculiar team, and have been since they arrived in the Premier League back in 2008. Widely expected to be relegated, they instead ended up finishing in 12th place with the Britannia Stadium having become something of a fortress following wins against Spurs, Villa and Arsenal amongst others. Initially, people were congratulatory, but since then more and more people within the sport have thrown accusations at them for being too ‘rough.’ Needless to say, this is absolute claptrap.
There was some amusement from the critical camps when boss Tony Pulis noted he would have one eye on the Six Nations over the weekend, as one of the most public criticisms from their fellow professionals came from Arsene Wenger who accused Stoke of ‘rugby’ tactics. Contrasting sharply with Arsenal’s own ‘beautiful game’ approach, it wasn’t hard to see why Wenger wasn’t a fan of Pulis’ methods, especially following a defeat at the Britannia.
Pulis, for his part, couldn’t care less. ‘I don’t take any notice of what people outside this club say anyway. Those who have known me long enough will know I just let them get on with it.’ The criticisms of ‘rugby’ tactics were also coupled with those that all of Stoke’s goals come from set-pieces (many as a result of Rory Delap’s absurdly long throw-ins). Once again, Pulis feels no need to defend these accusations, simply noting that ‘as a coach, I actually enjoy us doing that – and I have enjoyed it all my life. We work hard on the training ground and it is a great reward when they come off.’
The fact that two of Stoke’s goals in their FA cup quarter final victory over West Ham came from set pieces will no doubt delight Pulis and infuriate his detractors. It is worth noting though, that whilst Pulis’ rugby tactics have earned his side a trip to Wembley, Arsenal’s beautiful game has left them nursing the wreckage wounds that is their season.
No, Stoke are never going to win any plaudits for their style. However, what is more important in football: flair or wins? Would any Arsenal fans be prepared to sacrifice their beautiful play for a league trophy? You get the sense they would. When Pulis took over in June 2006, Stoke had just finished 13th in the Championship. Now they are an accomplished Premier League side with a significant amount of notable scalps. They have made more progression in the last five years than Arsenal, who some would argue have gone backwards.
As for ‘rough’ tactics, people forget that football is still a contact sport. As a manager who has previously had such players as Martin Keown and Patrick Viera under his charge, Wenger should appreciate that physical force is a vital element in the modern game.
Not that Tony Pulis gives a monkeys what Arsene Wenger thinks, anyway.