Which Stoke City do we prefer?

Stoke City manager Tony Pulis has been a staple of the club for the past seven years where he has been in charge at The Britannia since 2006.

After an initial 3-year stint at the club back in 2002, in 2006 Pulis returned to replace the outgoing Johan Boskamp as the club was under new ownership with Peter Coates’ takeover.

Stoke finished 8th in the Championship that season and again the following season 2007/08 and signed Ryan Shawcross, amongst others that summer. The next season Stoke were promoted to the Premier League on the final day of the season – they hadn’t been in the top tier for 23 years.

Since then, Pulis has taken his team from constant fear of relegation to a healthy and happy mid-table team as I outlined earlier on this season.

I had asserted then my belief that Pulis and his Stoke team had discovered a winning formula and whilst brand and style of football isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it worked.

Until now. It was working. What has happened to Stoke City and more importantly what is happening to Tony Pulis?

Stoke used to be the bane of almost every other team’s season – the fixture no one looked forward to.

They made it so tough to break them down – they gave next to nothing away defensively, were well-organized, and tactically astute. The days of the Rory Delap long throw and the centre-backs being their biggest goal-threats are long gone.

Whilst there was many (including myself) who bemoaned the style – it is boring, rudimentary, unimaginative and, frankly, ugly football. However, that was their thing. That was their job – to make everyone’s life harder.

In school I learned in a physics class that every action has a reaction, every force has it’s equal and opposite. Teams like Arsenal, Swansea, Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester United, Manchester City and now even Chelsea create beautiful attacking football with elegance and flair. Stoke are supposed to be their equal and opposite – the destroyers of beautiful attacking football.

The anti-football to their total football. Stoke are supposed to be the antagonists, the pantomime villains, the bogeymen of the Premier League but it seems they’ve become the big friendly giants instead.

There is trouble brewing in the back room I’m led to believe and there is discontent amongst the fans, some of whom are calling for a change in style, others a change in personnel.

I was under the impression Stoke City fans were happy with their lot – I watched them play at the Emirates earlier this year and they seemed nothing short of proud of their team. Where has that pride gone?

It’s hypocritical, I admit, I don’t like Stoke City. But, in a funny way, I really like not liking Stoke City and if they’re relegated I’ll miss them.

I don’t like seeing players’ legs broken but I enjoy complaining about it. I don’t like long throws and brute force and a reliance on set-pieces but it’s exciting when they get a free-kick in the 89th minute.

Stoke are exciting, you have to admit. They need to get back to doing what we loved hating them for. They’re good at it.

image: © Ronnie Macdonald

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