Crystal Palace’s season won’t end until Pulis has overtaken Stoke City

Crystal Palace Sign Wembley

Having left the club that he made into a permanent Premier League fixture last summer, Tony Pulis will want to finish above them come May.

From being treated as a managerial pariah in the Potteries, the Welshman has become one of the front-runners for the Manager of the Season award this year thanks to the miraculous revival he brought about at Selhurst Park, turning Crystal Palace from relegation certainties to top-half challengers.

His new side are now set to host Liverpool, in a fixture that could well decide the destination of the title. Should the Reds fail to match Manchester City's result against Everton, and drop points against Pulis's team, they will be all but doomed to finish second this year.

While some fans may assume that winning in South London should be little more that a formality against a side who no longer have anything to fight for, it is unlikely to be a view shared by the baseball-capped man himself.

With Stoke City lingering just ahead of the Eagles in the Premier League, Pulis will be driving his charges on to win all three points and reduce the gap between his former and current clubs down to just one single point. Should they manage that then the right combination of results on the last day of the season could yet fire Palace above the Potters, handing their manager a sweet slice of revenge for having been spurned after so many years' service.

Given that Pulis brought with him salvation and Premier League dignity to the playing squad he now manages, it is unlikely they would be against returning the favour to the man who saved their top flight careers.

Liverpool also have tactical reasons to be worried too. Just as Jose Mourinho's park-the-bus approach dented their title challenge in April thanks to some solid and well-organised defending, Pulis's team are unlikely to give their visitors an inch.

Daniel Sturridge, Luis Suarez, Philippe Coutinho and the other members of Liverpool's glittering attack depend on space to weave their magic. In players like Mile Jedinak, Palace have the personnel to deny them that luxury, and squeeze them out of the contest. Whether the Eagles can strike back on the counter as Chelsea did is another matter.

That is not to say that Pulis only succeeds as a dealer of woefully dull, anti-football however. His football this year has of course been muscular and well-drilled, but it's also often been exhilarating in its own way, even if it is not quite the tiki-taka that the snobs and hipsters demands these days.

Equally, his Stoke side suffered more from the attitudes of others than their own inability to play. Pulis's Potters were arguably more entertaining than Mark Hughes' transitioning side this year, who have become rather bland without the antagonistic identity and purity their former boss instilled within them. Anyone who is unable to enjoy a well-taken header, a beautifully orchestrated set piece, or a perfectly crafted cross is missing out on parts of football that once formed the back bone of the sport's appeal.

To steer a club that had looked hopeless into a position above the club that discarded him last season would be an even more fitting accolade for Pulis, even more so than the Manager of the Year award.

Well-marshalled resources, punchy and direct football and a lack of concern for the distractions and critics lining up to deter him from his mission to do the best for his club were the hallmarks of his reign at Stoke as well as at Palace.

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