Despite likely survival this season, Stoke manager Tony Pulis has a big decision to make in the close-season.
At the start of the season I wasn’t too complimentary about Stoke City. In fact about the only nice thing I could say about them was that they were established.
And yet now they appear to be at risk of losing that as well.
Manager Tony Pulis has been quoted as saying that one more win will be enough to secure his side’s Premier League status for another year. And he will be hoping that win comes today, at home to Norwich.
And as long as Wigan and Aston Villa remain below them, the Potters will breathe a little easier.
But the truth is a football club that in recent times is more famous for a player who can throw the ball needs a rethink, even when safety is almost inevitably secured.
The foundations on which Pulis has built his side have wobbled this season.
Yes he is a manager who likes to take risks, giving third chances to the likes of Matthew Etherington and Jermaine Pennant and taking chances on the injury-prone Michaels, Kightly and Owen. But he may need to take a different type of risk to continue playing with the big boys.
The Britannia Stadium – otherwise known as the retirement home for England strikers past – used to be that old football cliché, a fortress. But it isn’t quite as impenetrable as it used to be. While their away form has been nothing short of dire.
So once Pulis has secured that final win that allows him to sleep a little easier and his players to stop regretting not inserting relegation clauses into their contracts, he has a very big summer ahead of him.
But while most managers approach the summer considering shopping lists, Pulis needs to redraw the blueprints.
By August, he must have decided whether to reinvent or go back to what his side once did best. He either turns them into a free-flowing football team, or he rebuilds the wall, taller and stronger than ever before.
I said at the start of the season that Stoke are stuck. But I was also adamant they would survive. And that they would continue to survive for as long as Pulis was in charge.
They were stuck in a model of their own making, and in a league position that would never get much better or worse.
They were as Charlton had once been, mid-table with only brief spells of the unexpected.
But I have changed my mind; because the Premier League is an ever-changing beast. Most clubs are attempting new ways to survive. Managers are changed when things don’t go well. And both a side’s tactics and its ethos adapts when it has to.
If Stoke do not heed that, this year’s narrow escape may be a precursor for the real struggles ahead.
Is it time for Stoke to reinvent themselves? Or can they revert to the almost-impenetrable force they once were?
image: © ronnie macdonald