Stoke City need to aim higher
Tony Pulis' side should not be content with mid-table mediocrity
If you stand still you end up going backwards, or so they say in the Premier League.
Everyone is looking forward – how many teams expect to win the league? How many demand Champions League qualification? Who is happy with a relegation battle? At the end of the season, plenty of teams will be disappointed, and plenty of managers will be out of a job.
Not Tony Pulis and Stoke, though. Speaking to SkySports.com at the beginning of the season, Pulis said: "It's been a great four or five years, it's very difficult to keep giving and giving and giving so we have to be careful we don't get blasé about it and that people don't expect too much.
"Gradually we're putting things into place that this football club could never have dreamed of and we mustn't get too greedy. Staying in the Premier League is our target.
"That will always remain the case because if that happens then we generate the income the football club needs to reinvest."
While that is very sensible in this era of hyperbole and top fours, this is Stoke’s fifth consecutive season in the Premier League. After reaching the FA Cup final in 2011, they qualified for the Europa League.
The Potters squad contains £10 million Peter Crouch, £6 million Wilson Palacios, England international Ryan Shawcross, Manchester United-linked Asmir Begovic, Robert Huth, Charlie Adam and Michael Owen. Pulis has been afforded money to invest in improving his side and a team of that quality should be aiming for more than simply survival.
That is not to say Stoke can demand a top six finish and continental qualification every season, but a top half spot is not out of the question. The Britannia is a tough place for teams to visit and Stoke take more points off the top teams than most sides in the league. If they could match those upsets with consistency then relegation would never enter their minds.
Perhaps because Pulis sets his sights so low Stoke enter the odd patch of rotten form. Shawcross and his defence have conceded 27 goals in 23 games in the league, but 13 of those goals have come in the last four matches, which has seen Stoke pick up one point from 12. If they had picked up just one win from those four games they would be only two points behind Arsenal and Liverpool.
Stoke have spent more than the likes of Everton and West Brom, yet Pulis does not share the ambitions of David Moyes and Steve Clarke.
Plenty of big teams have been relegated and a quick look at the table sees the relative giants of Newcastle and Aston Villa flirting dangerously with relegation. For a club of Stoke’s size, with their limited (but vocal) crowds and no sheikh or oligarch to fund them, the revenue from playing in the Premier League is vital. However, approaching seven years in charge in his second stint at the club, Pulis has earned the respect and confidence of everyone at Stoke. He can afford to set the bar a little higher and he might find he gets a little more from his side.
Stoke have the quality, they just need a little ambition.
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