What a difference a few years make. Once dubbed the ‘new Derby’ by a mis-informed journalist, Stoke have defied the band of critics and secured a spot in the upcoming group stages of the Europa League. Stoke fans are joyous at the prospect of European talent convening on the Britannia Stadium.
The draw wasn’t kind to Stoke, pitting Pulis’ men against Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv, Ukrainian side Dynamo Kiev and Turkish club Besiktas. Not exactly anything to leap out of your seat about. Nevertheless, Stoke fans will travel in their droves to the depths of Ukraine, Israel and Turkey. Whether domestic results will suffer as a result of the team’s excursions in Europe, it’s up for debate.
On the evidence of the display at West Brom, perennial sufferers at the hands of Stoke, it suggests they will. Yes, the Potters clinched all three points, but the team were lethargic, victims of a lack of options to mix up a fatigued squad. Ryan Shotton sealed the victory for Stoke with a dubious goal at the death, erasing all memories of a poor show from Stoke. Ben Foster will still feel enraged at the decision by Mike Dean to allow Shotton’s goal to stand.
Pulis’ impressive recruiting on deadline day was an example of the ambition shown by the Potter’s inner circle. Pulis, generously backed by owner Peter Coates, made some shrewd additions on the final day of business. They also went some way to easing the pressure on the existing squad, a team that was thin on attacking options. With the arrival of Peter Crouch and Cameron Jerome up front it provides more options for Pulis, whilst ensuring a hefty headache for the Welshman to choose his starting 11. Shotton, as encouraging as he was at the Hawthorns, will not cut it as a striker and is obviously better inclined back in defence. Europe should feel less of a daunting with the recent arrivals now on hand.
Wilson Palacios is a proven Premier League player, a capable ball-winner that is a certain upgrade in central midfield. The Honduran international arrives in Staffordshire with fellow team-mate Crouch, at a combined fee of around £18m.
Pundits and journalists alike are now touting Stoke for a top-ten finish, and rightly so. Lavish investment from Coates has certainly paid off, resurrecting his home-town club from previous disarray. But this season brings new challenges, and Europe will prove a sturdy test for Pulis’ men.