O'Neill must be next England manager, says No 1 fan Pulis

Beattie back to his best as Stoke look for first away win – and a double over Villa

Tony Pulis admits he is more likely to give Martin O'Neill one of his trademark baseball caps than a £300 bottle of claret when his team visit Aston Villa in a top-versus-bottom encounter today. Yet the Stoke City manager's admiration for the man he believes should succeed Fabio Capello with England is every bit as strong as the respect between Jose Mourinho and Sir Alex Ferguson.

Stoke gained their opening Premier League victory at Villa's expense in August and Pulis, heartened by James Beattie's scoring form and the return of the muscular target-man Mamady Sidibe, now hopes for a first away success against the same opponents. Although O'Neill's decision to leave eight first-choice players in the Midlands for Thursday's Uefa Cup defeat at CSKA Moscow lessened the chances of it happening, it drew an impish smile from Pulis.

"I was ringing the local radio stations saying he must take his first team," the Welshman quipped. "Given the choice, I'd have preferred them to have travelled to Russia. But seriously, Martin runs Aston Villa, not me. I think he's a top, top manager and was very unfortunate to get overlooked for the England job last time round. Villa won't thank me for saying this, but if he keeps doing what he's been doing, he should be the next England manager – if he wants it.

"What I admire is that he had the balls to start in non-League football with Shepshed and Grantham. That says something," Pulis reflected. "Martin is very passionate, and it will be nice to be up against a manager wearing a tracksuit. There are loads drifting away to wearing suits. He's old-fashioned in that sense, but you can't say that about his team.

"Villa have pace and power in the right areas, though the real strength is their balance. The players are in the right positions and know exactly what their jobs are. Martin is like Brian Clough, who got people to play to their strengths. The football they play is very attractive. They are good at counterattacking and set-plays, but he also has players with great ability."

Pulis's opinion of his only rival in the touchline histrionics stakes is informed by gratitude for O'Neill's unwitting part in Stoke's return to the English elite after a 23-year absence. "Letting me have Lee Hendrie and Pat-rik Berger on loan was a big influence on the club," he said. "It showed we could attract bigger players and took us to a different level. Martin is very straight. There's no ifs, buts or maybes. If he says he'll do a deal, he will."

This afternoon, however, Villa and Stoke will suspend goodwill for 90 minutes, with O'Neill's team keen to maintain their pursuit of a Champions' League place and the visitors desperate to kick-start their fight against relegation. Beattie's four goals in five outings since Pulis paid Sheffield United £2.5 million for the striker has given the Potteries club renewed optimism, as has Sidibe's fitness after the 6ft 5in Malian spent two months out with a knee problem.

"James has given us goals, but everything about him – the way he trains, his great enthusiasm – has livened up the place," Pulis said. "The opportunity to play in the Premier League again is a big spur for him. With Mama injured, we had missed having a focal point to our attack, so his coming back as well is a massive plus for us. Those two together will be a handful."

Villa have cause to be wary of both. Four years ago, during David O'Leary's tenure, they were found guilty by the Football Association of making an illegal approach to Beattie – then with Southampton – while Sidibe settled the last meeting in stoppage time.

Stoke, with one victory in 14 League and cup fixtures and without an away victory in the top flight since 1984, urgently need a repeat performance.

TODAY'S GAMES

Manchester United v Tottenham hotspur (3pm, Sky Sports 1) United using half-a-dozen reserves should even the game up nicely. The outcome may depend on how soon they send for reinforcements.

Aston Villa v Stoke city (3pm) Villa clearly feel they are exciting enough to pull a crowd while the Wembley game is live on TV. Stoke (three points from 13 away games) are not part of the attraction.

Bolton wanderers v Newcastle Utd (1pm, Setanta Sports 1) What a lot of water under the Tyne Bridge since Sam Allardyce took Newcastle to Bolton on the first day of last season and won easily.

Hull City v Blackburn Rovers (12.30pm)

Allardyce goes to Humberside instead today, six points behind Hull but with a game in hand. A key match in both teams' season.

West Ham Utd v Manchester City (12.30pm) Craig Bellamy will be on a high visiting another of his old clubs, but West Ham are having a flat patch: two goals and no win in five games.

Steve Tongue

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss