Season preview: Stoke City
Stoke City head into the new Premier League season high in expectation after last season’s fantastic adventure in Europe. Manager Tony Pulis will be attempting to cement his player’s feet firmly on the ground by telling them and various media outlets that staying up is their only realistic ambition, but try explaining that to Potter’s fans who had the privilege of travelling to the Mestella and Kiev in the last campaign.
Those famous European away days were Stoke’s first ever games in Europe. It was a remarkable achievement for a team that was playing in the third tier of English football ten years ago.
Despite its European heroics, Stoke struggled to recapture its form from previous seasons in the league. Playing in Europe on a Thursday night, then in the league on a Sunday afternoon certainly took its toll on the Stoke squad.
A respectable 14th placed finish, accompanied by Peter Crouch’s wonder strike against Man City, and home wins against Tottenham and Liverpool ensured there was plenty to celebrate at the Britannia in the 2011/12 campaign.
Tony Pulis is still to win over a small section of Stoke fans despite consolidating them as a Premier League outfit, as they approach their fifth season in the top flight.
They do require a “plan B”, as a number of teams worked them out last season, which meant they struggled to amass as many points as they have done in previous seasons.
Tony Pulis will have certainly looked at this and his signings so far this summer seem to suggest they may be attempting to utilise a different style of play.
Michael Kightly is probably their biggest signing so far this summer, and if they can get an injury free season out of him then Stoke will profit from an outstandingly gifted player with two good feet.
USA international, Geoff Cameron, joins from MLS side Houston Dynamo. Primarily a centre-half who can also play in midfield and at full-back. Stoke beat a number of other sides from the Premier League and Europe to capture his signature and big things are expected of him.
Jamie Ness also joins from Rangers. He is a hot prospect for the future and has the potential to change a game in the blink of the eye. His talents will probably be used from the substitute’s bench this season, but he is another quick-footed footballer.
Tony Pulis is definitely showing some imagination with these signings and if they can push a deal through for free agent Michael Owen then they will have a proven goal scorer to play alongside fan’s favourite Peter Crouch, and the hardworking Jonathan Walters.
Stoke is in need of a couple new signings, especially at full-back as it played with four centre-halves across the back four for much of last season.
Stoke fans may be a bit concerned at the lack of transfer activity, but they need not fear as they signed a majority of their players last summer towards the end of the transfer window.
I expect much of the same from Stoke this season. They will be tough to beat. Nobody will enjoy going to the Britannia. That will never change. They will play with their hearts on their sleeves. Without the distraction of Europe they will be a lot stronger in the league this year.
A strong start to the season is imperative for any team like Stoke and with its first two home games against Arsenal and Man City, the players don’t need any other motivation to come out of the traps firing.
Stoke will have plenty of great performances, especially at the Britannia, and will be challenging the likes of Swansea, Aston Villa and QPR for a place in the top half of the table, but it may have to settle for less. They are also quite capable of a good cup run and their fans will be dreaming of a return to Wembley.
Paul Jones, football correspondent