'The season starts now' for Stoke City says Tony Pulis after loss to Manchester United

The Potters lost 2-0 at home to United

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The Independent Football

Tony Pulis has told his players the season starts now and challenged them to win two of their final five games to ensure Stoke will have a sixth consecutive season of Premier League football.

The Potters looked well placed to achieve their target of a top-10 finish when they went on a 10-game unbeaten run through November and December, but Pulis has always been careful to stress survival is the priority, and it has become increasingly clear why.

Stoke have picked up only five points since the turn of the year and yesterday's 2-0 defeat by Manchester United extended their miserable run to one point from seven games.

That left Pulis' side in 16th, three points clear of 18th-placed Wigan but having played two games more.

With games against QPR, Norwich and Sunderland coming up, Stoke's fate remains well within their own hands, and Pulis is determined to look forward with optimism.

He said: "I've just spoken to the players. It's a five-game season. There's eight, maybe nine teams that are in the scrap and we've just got to make sure, no matter what's happened before, the season really starts for us now. I still say 40 points will do it.

"We just haven't had the breaks, and that's what happens in runs like this. The most important thing is that you all stay nice and positive - and it's difficult to do that - and focus.

"What's gone has gone, the important thing is looking to the next game and then the next game."

At the other end of the table, United restored their 15-point lead over Manchester City and need only another seven points from six games to secure a 20th top-flight title.

Michael Carrick opened the scoring inside four minutes but it was the second goal, scored by Robin van Persie from the penalty spot midway through the second half, that really pleased United.

The Dutchman had gone 10 United games without a goal and celebrated exuberantly by embracing Sir Alex Ferguson and then being swamped by his team-mates.

Van Persie told Sky Sports: "It was relief but it was an important time in the game. I had to score that one and thankfully it went in. The relief of a couple of weeks came out I would say.

"I wanted to celebrate with everyone as they have been great to me from day one, even when it is a little harder they still support me and believe in me and help me when they can."

As well as the title, United also have Chelsea's record Premier League points tally of 95 in their sights - six wins would give them 98.

Van Persie said: "There are six to go and we have to go for all of them. If we win them all we get the record in our pockets, so it is a good aim."