Stoke suffer travel nightmare on way to Istanbul


Stoke will take to the field for their final Europa League Group E match against Besiktas less than 22 hours after touching down in Istanbul following a nightmare journey yesterday.

The Potters have had to deal with more than their fair share of travelling in their first European campaign for more than 30 years after drawing the Turkish side, Dynamo Kiev and Maccabi Tel Aviv, and manager Tony Pulis has made no secret of the strain that has put on his side.

Yesterday's journey was supposed to be the shortest of the lot but a scheduled four-hour flight from Manchester turned into a seven-hour trip taking in three airports and resulting in the Stoke party eventually touching down at 10.30pm.

Their initial departure was delayed by congestion in Turkish airspace and when they did finally reach their destination they were forced to land at Sabiha Gekcen International Airport on the Asian side of the city.

The plane was then kept on the tarmac for more than two hours before making the short hop to Ataturk Airport across the Bosphorus.

Pulis was clearly irritated by the situation but chose to keep his thoughts largely to himself.

The Potters boss said: "At the moment I just don't want to comment on what's happened. We're all here safe and sound. We just have to get on with it. We'll get a good night's rest and look forward to playing the game.

"When we arrived at the first airport they said there was an opportunity to get a bus across but that would have taken another two and a half hours, so we decided to stay on the plane."

With Stoke having qualified for the knockout stages already, Pulis chose to leave all the players who started Sunday's 2-1 Barclays Premier League victory over Tottenham behind, and the delays further vindicated that decision.

Only 15 players have travelled and the line-up will be made up mainly of the club's second string, while youngsters Michael Clarkson and Lucas Dawson could play some part.

There is still something to play for tonight, though, for Stoke, who need a draw to ensure top spot in the group, while the same result would give Besiktas second place.

A victory for the Turkish side at the intimidating Inonu Stadium, officially the loudest in the world, would take them above their opponents, and Pulis vowed his players would do their best to prevent that from happening.

The Welshman said: "We think it'll be a very difficult game. They're a very good side. They were very good at our place. We'll give it our best shot.

"The atmosphere will be brilliant. Myself and the assistant manager (Dave Kemp) have been to watch a game and the Besiktas supporters were fantastic. Every time we play in a different country it's a new challenge."