On the 10th September 1941, the HMS Stubborn was finally completed. An S class Submarine, it went on to patrol the home waters during the Second World War. In a lifespan that was dogged by it’s misfiring and a failure to hit targets, it was finally sunk on the 30th April 1946, after just 4 and a half years.
If Stoke supporters were asked to describe Tony Pulis in one word, you can guarantee that the top three answers would be ‘God’, ‘Stubborn’ or unprintable, dependent on their views of arguably Stoke’s second most successful manager to take reigns of this proud club. It’s a strange phenomenon we have here at Stoke in that the supporters are very much split on their views of Pulis, and have been since his return. To some, getting us into The Premiership means he can never do any wrong, to others, they simply can’t stand his brand of negative football that has seen us become something of a pantomime villain in a league that is watched the world over. For the majority however, there is gratefulness in everything that has been achieved, but also the sheer disbelief at the way we’ve approached games this season, with baffling team selections and tactics that make you want to bang your head against the wall so hard, that you see stars instead of Salif bleeding Diao!
Last season Dave Kitson, was nothing short of dire. So poor in fact that I’d have quite happily have let him fire at me with a pistol from point blank range. Not because I’d be sure he’d miss, but instead being confident that the ginger haired one would be too lazy to even pull the trigger, would drop the gun, and go and sulk back to Reading. What a difference a pre-season makes. Whatever problems Dave had been having had been addressed, and credit to the bloke, he looked like he’d finally sorted his head out and looked like the player we paid so much money for. This carried on into the season and he still in January, remains our second top goalscorer despite only starting 6 games. So what did Tony Pulis do to reward Dave Kitson? Sent him packing on loan to Middlesbrough. What kind of an incentive is that to everyone else at the club? Sort your life out, be the much bigger man by taking full responsibility for last season and apologise, work your back side off, become the top goalscorer, and you’ll be rewarded with being sent to the North East where in order to breathe you need a knife and fork to cut the smog with.
Liam Lawrence and Glen Whelan are two more players that also fit into the conundrum. The same Liam Lawrence and Glen Whelan who were good enough to play against France and Italy were dubbed by Tony Pulis not good enough to start against the likes of Hull and Wolves. The same Liam Lawrence who has been instrumental in everything this football club has become since coming to us on loan in 2006, who never gives less than 100%, and plays with such and pride that it’s difficult to believe that he wasn’t raised on the streets of Stoke-on-Trent. And what’s happened to two of the only players at this club that can actually pass a ball? Liam has returned to the side looking out of sorts, and at times uninterested. Either Pulis has finally broken his spirit, or he’s got a huge pressure sore from all his time on the bench, and it’s impeding his ability to run, pass, or do anything. As for Glen Whelan, it’s only a matter of time before he decides that he’s seen players who couldn’t pass water start before him for the last time, and asks to leave.
Man Management isn’t the only thing that escapes Pulis’ stubborn streak though, nor is it the biggest gripe. It’s when the se players actually get on to the pitch that you want to rip your own ears out and shove them in your eyes to make it go away. But where to start?! We have one game plan, and one game plan only. Smash the ball as hard and as high as you possibly can from the back towards a striker who appears to have no muscles in his legs to jump. If we’re lucky we might get a throw in from which we need to throw the ball as far as is humanly possible (which isn’t very far if you’re Danny Higginbotham). On Saturday against Liverpool, this has never been proved more brilliantly, when Rory Delap is forced to go off, and we were treated with the sight of Salif ‘milk float’ Diao ambling over to take some of the most appalling throw in’s ever seen. Embarrassing doesn’t do it justice. But why does it continue to happen? Because there is no plan B. And thats made all the more unforgivable when Plan A is so unbelievably garbage. Matty Etherington on Saturday was continuously rubbing his neck as the ball was smashed so far over his head that planes were being diverted around Stoke-on-Trent. (Maybe the ball gets as sick as us of watching such dire football and just tries it’s damn hardest to escape?)
But it doesn’t have to be this way. The first half against Fulham was as good a half of football as has been played this season, not by just Stoke, but by any team in the greatest league in the world. We attacked, we kept the ball on the floor, and we looked dangerous. If anything the 3-0 score line flattered Fulham. But as halftime approached you just knew what was coming. Had we learnt from the Wolves game? Not a chance. I genuinely have no idea what was said in both of those games at half time, because we were excellent against Wolves in the first half too. Pulis must sit them down at half time and tell them that what he’s just seen is not what we’re about. ‘If you wanna play this fancy football, you can go and play at The Hawthorns! Now get back out there and start smashing the ball up in the air.’ The worst thing being though, is that it’s what we all knew would happen. We were lucky to take anything out of either game after the abysmal second half showings, which is criminal when you think just how well we played in the opening 45 minutes. It’s enough to make you want to lock Pulis out of the dressing room at half time, when we take a lead in.
Which leave us last but not least with this farce of a transfer window. A third of it to go and still no new signings. Despite being desperate for a ball playing midfielder as described above, and at least one new striker. Those of us expecting Pulis to have learnt his lesson from past transfer windows have been proven wrong yet again as we try to strengthen areas that don’t need strengthening and chase targets that wouldn’t come to Stoke if we were the last club on earth left with any money. You cross your fingers that he’ll change, but in the end stubbornness prevails.
Edgar Watson Howe wrote that “A man will do more for his stubbornness than for his religion or his country” For everyone’s sake, let’s all hope that this doesn’t extend to his club as well.