Stoke's two biggest mistakes: Firing Pulis... Hiring Hughes

Stoke Battle Arsenal

Stoke were reminded of the brilliance of their former manager Tony Pulis yesterday as he guided Crystal Palace to a 1-0 win over Mark Hughes' side.

As much as the Stoke board may have pretended - or protested - at the end of last season, the departure of Tony Pulis was both a sad and significant day in the history of the club.

In agreeing by mutual consent for Pulis to leave the Britannia Stadium - or firing him, whichever proved to be the reality behind the scenes - the Potters put an end to seven years under one manager, a tenure that saw them get promoted and consistently stay up in the Premier League. They even reached an FA Cup final and qualified for the Europa League.

It was truly the end of an era and, despite ill-thought out criticisms of Pulis' style of football and premature worries about his results, one that represented a big risk going forward. The key was always going to be the replacement chairman Peter Coates had lined up.

Unfortunately, his answer was Mark Hughes, a man who had gone 17 league games without a win in his last job before being sacked.

That was at QPR, where Hughes had done such a bad job that the club went down despite a revival under Harry Redknapp, leaving the former Manchester City man's legacy at Loftus Road in absolute tatters.

There could be no bigger sign of the contrast between Stoke's former manager and the new man at the helm than yesterday's clash between the Potters and Pulis' new club Crystal Palace. As it happened, Pulis came out on top, winning 1-0.

"It was lovely that the supporters have been like that," Pulis told Sky Sports after the match.

"It was a wonderful 10 years there. It's a lovely place and I met a load of lovely people. My girls were there today and they were Stoke fans for 10 years, so it was difficult for everyone.

"I thank them immensely for the reception. You don't get that very often in sport today."

A top bloke on top of being a top manager, then. Stoke are really missing out.

Under Hughes, of course, the Potters record has not been totally disastrous... yet. Relegation is by no means a certainty on current form, with Stoke's home record just about saving them at the moment.

But their away form has been absolutely dire, with just one win - and eight defeats - from 11 games on the road. Hughes' side have also won just four at home, making the fact that they have lost just two in 11 at the Britannia rather misleading.

Last week's 5-3 defeat to Liverpool also highlighted a worrying tendency to leak goals, meaning the club could be in for a rough ride in the weeks to come...

Perhaps the worst part of Hughes' tenure so far, however, is the gross misunderstanding about Stoke's changing "style." Some of the biggest complaints about Pulis' time at Stoke centred around his preference for direct football. Hughes has supposedly taken it upon himself to make a transition towards a more attractive style of play.

Yet Stoke have actually become a robust, physical side, whose most obvious characteristic is the amount of fouls they commit. Some style change?

The Potters, of course, may not get relegated under Hughes at all. But with the miracles being worked at Selhurst Park at the moment, how much better off would they be under Pulis?

image: © Ronnie Macdonald

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