Pulis opts for stability over flair as Stoke grind out draw
Stoke City 0 Aston Villa 0
Monday 15 March 2010
It is probably just as well that Tony Pulis doesn't give a hoot what anyone thinks about Stoke's continuing presence in the Premier League. If he did, you suspect it would be their downfall.
If he were bothered, he would have made changes. He would have insisted that whatever happened they should at least play nicely, winning critical sympathy and the approval of his managerial peers. It might not have accrued many points, but friends would be plentiful.
It was by not doing that, however, by making no concession to popularity, that Pulis achieved 12th place with his promoted team last season and is on course to do just as well this season.
The question is: can you blame him? Had you watched this game as a neutral, seeking only entertainment, you would have felt short-changed. Pulis took off his most creative player, Tuncay Sanli, with more than half an hour left, but by the end Villa were happy to leave with a point. Bombarded by Rory Delap's long throws, buffeted by the giants seeking to exploit them, they were grateful for a clean sheet.
Only four teams have won at the Britannia Stadium in the Premier League this season, three of whom occupy the first three places in the table.
Tuncay went off in a strop; Stoke's £5m record signing has completed a full 90 minutes only four times in 29 Premier League games. But Pulis could not have cared less. "It makes no difference to me who they are," he said. "The team is more important than any individual."
Indeed, the last half-hour saw Pulis vindicated, more or less. Ricardo Fuller, Tuncay's replacement, raised the tempo to the extent that Stoke had almost all the chances. But for some stout defending, particularly by Richard Dunne and James Milner, they would have won.
Stoke City (4-4-2): Sorensen; Huth, Abdoulaye Faye, Higginbotham, Collins; Whitehead, Whelan, Delap, Etherington; Tuncay Sanli (Fuller, 53), Sidibe (Kitson, 54). Substitutes not used: Begovic (gk), Lawrence, Pugh, Wilkinson, Moult.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Friedel; Cuellar, J Collins, Dunne, Warnock; A Young, Milner, Petrov, Downing; Heskey, Carew (Agbonlahor, 77). Substitutes not used: Guzan (gk), L Young, Sidwell, Delfouneso, Delph, Beye.
Referee: K Friend (Leicestershire).
Bookings: Aston Villa Cuellar, Dunne, Milner, Warnock.
Man of the match: Dunne.
Nicklas Bendtner's injury-time winner at Hull will have come as little surprise to seasoned Premier League observers – Arsenal have now scored 15 goals in the last 10 minutes of games (a league high), while Hull have conceded the most, 14.
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