Pulis seeks 'bonus' on Stoke's travels


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The Independent Football

Beating Derby County was one thing, going to Old Trafford tomorrow is quite another stage in the evolution of the modern Stoke City.

As befits the son of a steelworker, Tony Pulis has constructed his club on rigid lines; first promotion, then survival in the Premier League and now a hunger for the cups. The next step will be to go to a big club and win, something Stoke have not done at United since 1976. You would have to go back to 1981, 1974 and 1959 to unearth their last league victories at Arsenal, Stamford Bridge and Anfield.

Pulis described their encounter at Old Trafford, perhaps unfairly, as "a bonus game". He said: "It won't be a game where we will have to pick something up from and, after what has happened at Liverpool, Sir Alex Ferguson will now be absolutely focused on winning the championship."

This may soon be very false modesty because Stoke are getting closer to the stage where a trip to Manchester will not just be for the experience. They have already drawn at Anfield and in September they held United for the first time at the Britannia Stadium, although tomorrow Ferguson is unlikely to give Peter Crouch and Kenwyne Jones the luxury of hurling themselves at the diminished figure of David De Gea.

"The longer you are in the Premier League, the stronger you become," said Pulis after the 2-0 fourth-round victory over Derby.

Pulis said: "The owners are 100 per cent behind us having a go in cup games and what I am pleased about is that we brought more than 5,000 fans and filled one end of the ground. If we had that kind of allocation in the Premier League, it would transform the atmosphere at games."

The atmosphere at the Britannia Stadium is seldom wanting and Pulis thought home advantage might be decisive in how far Stoke travel in the FA Cup and the Europa League. In the last two-and-a-half seasons, Stoke have played 16 cup games in their own stadium and lost only once – a furious Carling Cup tie against Liverpool which saw them take the lead before Luis Suarez settled matters. Yesterday, however, they were drawn away to Crawley Town in the fifth round.