Stoke success built from the back

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Football News

Whenever you hear the words 'Stoke City' and 'Britannia Stadium', the lazy default insult is to describe Tony Pulis' side as long-ball merchants who 'kick lumps' out of their opponents. Hard-hitting tackles, route one and ugly football are other words unfairly banded about to describe the Potters' playing style, or rather, lack of.

Yet, whilst these insults are harsh and unfounded, Stoke have recently stretched their unbeaten home record to 16 matches with a 3-1 win over Liverpool on Boxing Day. And such form has been built on a solid defence, with Pulis' side conceding only 14 goals in 18 matches thus far. Across Europe, only Bayern Munich, Juventus, Paris Saint-Germain and Malaga have better defensive records.

When Pulis took the reigns at the Britannia, he ingrained this philosophy into his side. Whilst it isn't unkind to say that 'the Pulis way' isn't the most eye-catching brand of football, nobody can argue that it is effective and is firing Stoke up the Premier League table. The Potters currently sit in 8th spot and are unbeaten in their last nine fixtures.

The BBC's Chief Football Writer, Phil McNulty, recently wrote that: "To praise Stoke's style in victory is as unfashionable as platform shoes but it should be done anyway. Pulis appears, on the surface at least, to be supremely indifferent to a rather snobby attitude some have towards his methods but he is at least in on the joke."

Reflecting on the latest demonstration of their continued improvement and stability in the Premier League, Pulis said: "We played some really good football - but don't tell anyone."

With Stoke's robust defence providing them with a platform to go on and mix it with the Premier League's elite, we take a closer look at one of the key reasons behind their success - the defence.

For starters, you don't have to look any further than the central-defensive partnership of Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth. They have started every Premier League game this season, and that consistency has enabled the duo to strike up a formidable partnership in the heart of defence. With their no-nonsense approach to defending, these are two defenders you wouldn't want to be marked by during a corner. Just ask Marouane Fellaini!

To their right, they have Geoff Cameron. The USA international used to play for Rhode Island Stingrays before joining Stoke City. Since his arrival, he has been nothing short of a revelation. In the recent match against Tottenham Hotspur, Cameron was set the unenviable task of keeping Gareth Bale quiet - and to his credit he did a good job. That in itself is quite an achievement. Just ask Maicon!

Not to mention that Stoke's back four quite literally tower above most of their Premier League counterparts, and so defending set-plays is no problem for Pulis' side. Geoff Cameron, Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross all stand at 6ft 3", so it comes as no surprise to learn that Stoke concede very few goals from dead-ball situations.

Although people may persist in calling Stoke City the 'enemies of football', the club's fans won't mind one bit. They are in the top half of the Premier League and under Pulis, they have consistently improved every season since getting promoted to England's top tier.

You can understand why Pulis refuses to alter his style, despite having its critics. Moreover, rather than criticism, are Stoke not due some praise for the way the club has been built gradually and sensibly under the stewardship of chairman Peter Coates since achieving top-flight status? As the old saying goes, 'if it isn't broke, don't fix it.'

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