Stoke City

Watching Chelsea play at The Hawthorns on Friday evening, it seemed only a matter of time before they would either score to win the Premier League title or their travelling fans would demand their money back … oh, from areas of the ground where West Brom fans had already demanded their money back and sold out to Chelsea instead.

Albion had their chances on the break – as Tony Pulis had set them up to do – but, though recognising the quality of a fantastic Chelsea side – I did think that if I were a Baggies fan I too would probably have gone for eBay rather than Row E. Their football, for the most part, has been dull but effective, yet their season is being hailed as a Premier League success story.

Tony has had plenty of practice at making teams dull but effective, then hiding behind a lack of money as the main reason for this survival strategy. However, when he tried to reverse that trend at Palace it all went horribly wrong and he’s still counting the cost. Tony reckons that helping to create the dullest FA Cup Final against Manchester City in 2011 prevented his Stoke side from making the Premier League’s Top 10. City and more adventurous football teams are still counting the benefits.

I wonder if Mark Hughes was thinking about Tony or Chelsea as he wandered around the almost deserted Bet365 stadium on his end-of-season ‘lap of honour.’ It wasn’t that Stoke fans hadn’t bet on this being their last home game of the season, or that they had rejected the beautifully-coiffured Hughes, more that the day was supposed to be about Arsène Wenger’s failure; however, Stoke’s so-called players simply hadn’t read the script. To make matters worse, the fans hadn’t been able to afford a plane trailing nasty and vindictive messages either, so they lost the battle of the skies as well as being annihilated on the ground.

To be fair to Tony Pulis he does still have a soft spot for Stoke and so, quite unselfishly, sent them a gift in the form of modest, motivated, man-of-the-ego, Saido Berahino. Saido does most of his talking off the field but it is unfair to say that he doesn’t listen to others. After the 4-1 defeat to Arsenal – ensuring that Stoke will not scale the mighty peak of ninth position for a fourth consecutive season (which some lunatic locals would have referred to as ‘progress,’ before returning to the empty kilns and smokeless towers of The Potteries) he did reveal that:

“The manager gave us one instruction and that was to affect the game.”

So, that lets him and the others off a bit as they did affect the game – by being pretty dreadful throughout. You have to hand it to Peter Crouch, though; he did have a try but vertigo must be a real problem for him.

Alan Shearer claimed that “You can’t legislate for how poor people play” which is precisely why he managed to get Newcastle relegated and Rafa managed to get them promoted.

Saido himself wanted to “go on holiday with that winning feeling” but I guess he’ll get over it in whichever first-class resort he arrives at for a well-deserved break, while many of the people who pay his wages struggle to get a break of any kind.

Mark Hughes ‘never scored ordinary goals’ according to legend and lazy football commentators, week in and week out. He recognises how extraordinarily bad Stoke have been at times this season and admitted that “Clearly, we’ve obviously got areas we can be better in.”

Clearly, that obviously includes not just the Midlands but most other parts of England and now South Wales, as Swansea showed that mountains should be no deterrent to hitting peaks at the right time, at any time.

Tony Pulis is apparently one of six Premier League managers in the mix for the manager-of-the-year accolade. One thing is certain, as, with the templates he has created at Stoke and West Brom, it will be dull.

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