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Stoke exceed expectations as they push for top half finish

November 1, 2009
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Glenn Whelan celebrates his winner against Spurs

 

People have taken to Stoke like a bumble bee takes to honey. They arrived in the Premier League 18 months ago with the expectation that they wouldn’t be strong enough to stay in the division. Now, as a new decade is on the horizon, the Potters have done more than just keep their Premier League status.

Their direct style is typical of Northern sides; Bolton and Blackburn are easily comparable. A whole host of 6ft+ men make them extremely hard to break down and compete with, and with one of the county’s longest throwers of a Football in their ranks – Rory Delap – they’re also a force in the final 3rd. The likes of Abdoulaye Faye and Robert Huth provide excellent strength at the back, while James Beattie is a proven goalscorer up top.

It’s not rocket science to work out their secret then. One of the heroes of the Stoke side in recent years, in particular their key to survival last season, Ryan Shawcross is a perfect symbol of their style of play. A shaven-headed, 6’3″ centre-half from Manchester, Shawcross learnt his trade at United before being loaned out to the Midlands Club with a view to a permanent deal. In his first season at the Britannia Stadium, the season in which Stoke gained promotion from the Championship, Shawcross netted an impressive 7 goals from the back. His height is very dangerous from set-plays, in particular those Delap throws from either side.

Despite Stoke’s excellent start to the new campaign, manager Tony Pulis is refusing to get carried away and claims that he’s still concentrating on avoiding the drop. Stoke lie in 9th after 11 games, just one point behind Sunderland and only 3 off 4th place. A last-ditch win at White Hart Lane last weekend got people talking about a possible top 7 finish and therefore qualification into Europe. Chris Kamara, presenter of Goals on Sunday and much-loved pundit/commentator, admits that he backs them to clinch a Europa League spot too.

It’s a fact that the big teams find it very difficult to go to Stoke and get a result. They have arguably the best fan base in the Premier League in terms of passionate support. They make the Britannia a very hostile place to visit and make it very hard for visiting teams to play their Football. Arsenal and Liverpool found that out last season, and Manchester United almost slipped up earlier on this year as well.

A team like Arsenal, full of wonderful Footballers but not necessarily battlers, would be ideal prey for Stoke who would concentrate on kicking them off the pitch. Entirely fairly of course. That’s why teams will seldom take points from them at the Britannia. Home form will be crucial to determine Stoke’s season, as their away form can be very inconsistent, although pretty decent so far. They’ve lost only one on the road this season, that a 4-0 crushing at Anfield. Draws at Bolton, Birmingham, and Everton were followed by that impressive win against Spurs. However, last season’s form on the road suggests that there has to be caution about how they approach games against Hull and Blackburn away from home. They’d expect themselves to pick up points in these kind of games, yet can’t be too complacent.

So European contenders or mid-table solidity? Perhaps Europe is a bit of an ask at this stage. There are still better teams in the League who can do more than just battle. But they’re certainly heading in the right direction, and with the fans right behind them at the Britannia, who knows what may come about by the end of the season.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. maserati4200 permalink
    November 4, 2009 3:52 pm

    Hmmm – not sure about the analogy – bumble bees don’t do honey do they?

    Honey bees do honey, surely.

    Anyway, I’m not a fan of Tony Pulis or his style of play. He fcuked my home town team some years ago with his “get stuck in and lump it up the front” methods. We got relegated. He was sacked.

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