Saturday 13th February. Remember that date. It was the day that Stoke City's 2009/10 season really got started. The moment that 'self certain', if not sometimes misguided belief that we are capable of getting a result against anyone, finally
returned. As a Stoke supporter of 24 years, there have been very few times that I have felt more proud of my team than I did as they trudged off the pitch at Eastlands, battered, bruised, but certainly not beaten. The second half was such a display
of grit, determination, blood and thunder, that Guy Ritchie would be hard pressed to script a more barbaric and zealous scene. Like lions, Stoke battled, engaged and contested until there was barely a breath left in their torn and splintered
This was the Stoke from last season. The Stoke who thrived on their billing as Underdogs, in which each player was willing to run until they vomited. The Stoke that had teams dreading playing us due to our passion, pride and never say die attitude. The same Stoke that made us swell with pride, and the hairs on the back of our neck's stand up, every time we thought of them. Saturday night was such a resounding 'We Will Never Surrender' that it would have made Mel Gibson and his skirt wearing army decide to go back home to the Mrs for a Horlicks and an early night.
Pulis got an awful lot wrong on Saturday, don't get me wrong. The back four selection was nothing short of farcical, and the constant re-shuffling was at times bordering on the ridiculous. The truth is though, that if a mere man can take us in at
half time and send them out to play like that when the odds are stacked against us, then he deserves our support. Pulis welcomed in a team at the interval, robbed of two of it's flair players, and with very little on the bench to turn things around. One nil down, at the richest club in the world, Pulis performed a task of miraculous proportions. One can only imagine the crowds flocking around as Jesus Christ and Tony Pulis stand together, trying to convince the crowd that have assembled, that they them self are the son of God. Jesus goes first spectacularly turning water into wine, whilst Tony simply shows a video of the first then second half at Man City. If this had been the case then Pulisanity would now be the biggest religion in the world.
One can only surmise as to what was said at half time. Did Pulis tell Whelan that he'd arranged for his family to be kidnapped, and that unless he ran so hard that his lungs burst out of his rib cage, that he'd have them done away with? He must have done. A man so anonymous in the first half, fought so hard in the second that it was easy to believe that the lives of loved ones were genuinely at stake. And as for Danny Higginbotham, he mustn't have had a single muscle still attached to anything on Sunday morning, such was the effort put in throughout the game. He's very rarely received any plaudits since returning to the club he'd deserted as captain. On Saturday, if Stoke were lions, this man was something not seen on this planet. A creature of such strength, passion and guile that he will be seen in the nightmares of certain Man City 'players' when they close their eyes at night.
And then there's Fuller. What can be said about him that hasn't been said a million times before? To Ric, I offer the greatest compliment I can possibly bestow. I wouldn't swap him for any other striker in the world, let alone The Premiership. How many other strikers could fit into the way we play, and be so successful? The man is as strong as a bull on steroids and as skilful as any other striker or even winger in the league with the ball at his feet. Ricardo Fuller in years to come will be spoken of in the same breath as Stoke's all time greats.
Next up in the cup is Chelsea away, should we see off Man City. If we're going to win this cup, we're going to have to do it the hard way, on The Road to Wembley, rather than The Garden Path. Such is the return of belief after Saturday, I genuinely say 'Bring them on!'
I'm quick to criticise Pulis, as are many, but credit where credit is due. For making me swell with the same pride I felt for the entire of last season, thank you. I certainly won't be ticking 'Pulisanity' the next time I'm asked to fill out a form just yet, but I won't be turning Pulis Witnesses away from my door either. This is only the beginning...