Tony Pulis: Breaking the habit of a lifetime?

Stoke City Britannia Stadium

Should Stoke City lose to QPR this afternoon, their manager Tony Pulis may be facing relegation for the first time in his managerial career.

To second-guess the identity of the third team to suffer Premier League relegation this season is becoming as impossible as predicting the winning lottery numbers.

Just as we know certain numbers will come up, so we know a certain team will go down. But identifying that team is a case of picking from a list and seeing what happens.

And yet despite Wigan’s loss at the Etihad on Wednesday, there is a sense both within the club and to outside observers that they will escape.

In what is becoming the annual Latics’ late-season surge, Roberto Martinez’s men have the impetus; something that cannot be said of Tony Pulis’s Stoke City.

Thursday’s call-to-arms for the fans to become Stoke’s twelfth man was well-intentioned. As was Pulis’s reference to their remaining five games being “five throws of the dice” to get the six points required for safety.

But as any gambler knows, you need luck to roll sixes, and Stoke’s recent form suggests a side anything but lucky.

Stoke have won only once in their last 14 league games, and have picked up just six points from a possible 42.

With Aston Villa and Wigan hoping to continue fine runs, and Sunderland being pulled clear seemingly by the sheer bullishness of Paolo Di Canio, Stoke are in free-fall; leaving Pulis with the very real risk of being relegated for the first time in his managerial career.

Pulis’s habit has not been simply avoiding relegation, but building the template for top flight stability.

His Stoke side became the model of what promoted clubs aspired to; perhaps not in their style but certainly in their consistency.

Stoke were a mid-table side, and one whose home was something of a fortress.

Should teams manage to leave the Britannia with three points, it was hailed as an impressive feat.

Now it has been rebranded as almost inevitable.

Only that isn’t entirely true, because Stoke’s home form remains good if not great, with only four defeats all campaign. It is predominantly their away form that sees them flirting with the bottom three.

A single away win from 16 attempts tells its own story.

So this afternoon’s trip to Loftus Road against a QPR side clinging on to unlikely salvation may be the last thing Pulis needs.

You sense that Harry Redknapp’s side won’t admit defeat until a few weeks after safety is mathematically impossible. And should they take anything off Stoke today, Pulis’s impressive record could be lost.

To prevent their manager from breaking the habit of a lifetime, Stoke must break the habit of a season and win away from home.

It is the least they owe to a man who has given them what many clubs can only crave.

Do you think Stoke City will maintain their top flight status this season?

images: © jad99, © ronnie macdonald

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