Stoke City moved up to 41 points on Monday night, dragging them closer to ensuring that they will stay up and play their sixth straight season of Premier League football next year. It is an impressive achievement for a team with their background but it does raise the question whether or not they can continue this way forever.
Monday night's performance was close to a microcosm of Stoke's year, and even their five Premier League seasons. With professional application they did the simple minimum required to get what they needed. There was little fantasy, imagination or nuance to their play, and not much promise for the future, but with 40 points from 35 games there is not much margin for departing from the script.
But this draw, and Stoke's likely survival, was a vindication of sorts for the Pulis plan. They did the basics well enough, as they have done for most of the season, they defended tightly, until John O'Shea's equaliser, and they got the ball rarely into a position from which they could score.
Their attacking game plan was certainly rudimentary. Cameron Jerome ran the channels and soon enough Stoke forced a throw. Ryan Shotton, who has taken over from Rory Delap in one of the few evolutions of this Stoke side, hurled the ball into the box, it hit Alfred N'Diaye and went out for a corner. Charlie Adam curled it in, Jonathan Walters headed it at goal, his first effort was blocked, the ball came back out to him and he smacked his follow up into the net.
It was a goal typical of Stoke and of Walters, relying on preparation, commitment and the simple fact that other teams tend to make more mistakes from that. But from there they did not do much more in attack, making one good chance to go 2-0 up which they missed.
It might still have been enough but they switched off from a set-piece – betraying their own principles – and so had to settle for a point, which should keep them in the Premier League, although three certainly would have done. But their second-half fade, and the sense that this is getting harder not easier, is troubling.
The pertinent question, then, is whether this will take them to the required level next year, or the year after. This season has been more difficult for Stoke than the previous few, and it feels that while they stay in position, the landscape of the league is moving away from them.
The Premier League is changing and managers who just master the rudimentary are being left behind. Gary Megson, Alex McLeish and Martin O'Neill no longer have top-flight jobs. In the relegation battle, those teams who do more than the basics – Aston Villa and Southampton – look like surviving. You wonder whether these developments will move the game further away from Stoke.
They may look more at odds with the zeitgeist next season than they already do. And, whether next season or beyond, we will see whether Stoke's unbending, uncompromising approach, their stone outcrop in changing waters, will be able to survive. The simple minimum has done again this season, but it might not do forever.Reuse content