“A hostile crowd awaits to jeer you.. A 90 minute war is in the offing.. A physical battle ensues.. The warriors in red and white relish every tackle, every challenge, every 50-50 situation.. The crowd, arguably the loudest in England cheer them on.. Welcome to the Britannia Stadium! “
Stoke City won automatic promotion by finishing 2nd in the Championship in the 2007-08 season. Since then, they have been ever present in the Premier League without any hiccups on the way. They have finished 12th, 11th, 13th and 14th in the seasons from 2008-09 to 2011-12 respectively and have reached the FA Cup finals and have even featured in Europe.
When Tony Pulis was appointed at the helm for a second stint in the summer of 2006, the appointment was blatantly disregarded and he was written off as soon as he was appointed by most of the fans and pundits alike. But he is the one who has been instrumental in turning around Stoke’s fortunes. In the 2006-07 season, the Potters narrowly missed out on the play offs. In the following season, they went one better on the previous season and finished 2nd in the championship and thus managed a return to the top flight after a staggering 23 years.
Since then, they haven’t looked back. Unlike other newly promoted teams, they have never been in any real danger of being relegated and have held their own even against the big teams. As the following table should illustrate, their record at the Britannia against the top teams in the Premier League is very impressive!
Evidently so, Stoke seem to have established themselves as one of the stable mid-table clubs in the recent seasons.
But life in the top flight has not always been easy for the Potters. Many fingers have been pointed on their style of play and they have been condemned by many for the same. The long ball tactics coupled with Rory Delap’s long throws have not earned plaudits from the critics. Some have even termed it anti-football. Danny Murphy once even publicly criticised Stoke City, among other clubs, by stating that their managers send out their sides so pumped up that there are bound to be problems.
Agreed that the Stoke City lads aren’t the best tacklers around, but isn’t criticizing them for their tackling and their style of play a bit over the top? Football certainly would have gotten more boring if all the sides played tiki-taka football! Stoke City are different. When a team doesn’t have a Xavi, Scholes, Gerrard or even the likes of Britton and Allen, they have to make do with what they have. They know they neither have the resources, nor the players to try and play a fluid, passing game. So, they do the best with what they have. With wingers like Etherington and Pennant, strikers such as Crouch, Jerome, Jones and no nonsense defenders like Huth, Shawcross, they do pose a pretty formidable challenge. Their strength lies in the set-pieces and counter-attacking football. They try to expose the opposition’s frailties by using pace and power.
Yes, some people may argue that they find Stoke’s style of play boring. But then, even tiki-taka is not pleasing for all and is found to be dull by quite a few! I know it isn’t prudent to compare the Potters with the Blaugrana, but would the same critics question Barcelona over their style of play as it doesn’t entertain everyone? Probably not!
So, irrespective of whether you like them or hate them, the oldest club in the premier league is here to stay!Published 08 Jul 2012, 14:27 IST