Pulis patents Stoke's DNA code for survival
Hull City 1 Stoke City 2
Monday 11 May 2009
In a football area such as Stoke-on-Trent they will give the answer without a second thought, but elsewhere who can name Tony Pulis's predecessor at Stoke City?
Johan Boskamp was the man who led Stoke to 13th in the Championship in May 2006. That was three places below Luton Town. Pulis came in the following month on the back of Peter Coates' takeover and on Saturday, three years on, Stoke celebrated staying in the Premier League.
So victory at Hull City, which Stoke achieved with confidence and comfort, was part of a short but longer story. Pulis mentioned that, and that Stoke were 33-1 to be promoted last season.
But this season deserves recognition of its own. It began with a 3-1 defeat at Bolton Wanderers. Stoke were 3-0 down at half-time and the smugness of sceptics was seemingly confirmed. One bookmaker paid out on Stoke's relegation after that match. Another, Coates' Bet365 company, lengthened the odds about survival.
But seven days later, Stoke beat Aston Villa at the Britannia Stadium to show the sort of spirit which was then revealed time after time, particularly at home. Stoke and Pulis have also displayed an ability to react. Reading's Dave Kitson cost a record £5.5m when he arrived last summer. His failure to gel saw £3.5m spent on James Beattie in January. The speedy Matthew Etherington was added then, too.
On 27 January, Stoke were second-bottom but six of the next 13 games were won and Saturday's victory ensured survival. Yesterday Pulis flew to watch a match abroad. Recruitment may be about to begin afresh.
"I've been planning for next season for a long time and you hope and pray that those plans can be put in place," Pulis said. "But you've got to do it first [survive]. I've always been honest. My teams have always been honest, but sometimes that honest commitment has been misguided. People think we're too aggressive, but I don't think we have been. We'll keep the same DNA next season."
To their detractors, Stoke's DNA is 100 per cent physique. That opinion was unsustainable when Etherington and Liam Lawrence were skipping down the flanks. Stoke possess a muscular leader in Abdoulaye Faye at centre-half, but then Manchester United have Nemanja Vidic.
Michael Turner might be Hull's player of the season but he is not alone in appearing to be physically drained at just the wrong time. Ricardo Fuller bundled through Turner in the build-up to both Stoke goals. Fuller scored the first, from Lawrence's corner four minutes before half-time, and Lawrence speared a beauty above and beyond Boaz Myhill midway through the second half. Andy Dawson scored a free-kick five minutes into injury-time to give Hull hope and it blossomed when substitute Geovanni's cross was deflected goalwards 30 seconds later. It hit the side-netting.
Phil Brown peeled away in anguish. He has seen Hull steadily walk backwards down the Premier League stairs since December and by tonight they could be in the basement.
Jimmy Bullard was supposed to be Hull's Beattie, but was injured instantly. Captain Ian Ashbee – vital – is also out. Hull did not lack for effort here, but their edge has been eroded. Either Newcastle or Middlesbrough may move above them tonight. Hull then go to Brown's old club Bolton on Saturday.
"It's hard to maintain self-belief," Brown said. "It's been a test of character all season but it will change if we fall into the bottom three."
Hull City (4-4-2) Myhill; Ricketts, Turner, Zayatte (Geovanni, 67) Dawson; Garcia (Mendy, 60) Boateng, Kilbane, Barmby; Fagan, Cousin (Manucho, 60). Substitutes not used: Duke (gk), Halmosi, Marney, Hughes.
Stoke City (4-4-2): Sorensen; Shawcross, Cort, Faye, Wilkinson; Lawrence, Whelan, Delap, Etherington (Pugh, 85); Fuller (Kelly, 90) Beattie (Cresswell, 79). Substitutes not used: Simonsen (gk), Olofinjana, Sonko, Camara.
Referee: H Webb (South Yorkshire).
Booked: Stoke City Etherington
Man of match: Whelan.
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