9 years yesterday, Tony Pulis took charge of his first Stoke game, a 4-2 defeat against Walsall. ‘Pulis Out’ rang around the terraces, even after just one game in the hot seat. Relegation was looming.
Fast forward to present day, and last night’s Europa League tie with Isreal’s Maccabi Tel-Aviv. Pulis, backed by owner Peter Coates, has transformed the football club. From a lowly old Division One side, to a mid-table Premier League outfit, the results are for all to see. That season, Stoke finished 21st, just alluding relegation to the 2nd Division. This year, the club entertain European football.
Stoke entered Thursday’s game after a disappointing performance against Newcastle in front of the Sky cameras on Monday night. Pulis’ side were out-played by the unbeaten Newcastle, and rightly so. Pardew’s men were organised, disciplined, and possessed a significant goal threat in Demba Ba.
Ba came close to joining the Potters last summer, only for the Stoke medical staff to rule the move out, sighting a knee injury as the stumbling block. There was no sign of Ba being hindered by a troublesome knee on Monday.
Over in Israel, a goal apiece from Dean Whitehead and Peter Crouch eased Stoke past Tel-Aviv. A late consolation goal from Roberto Colautti did nothing but anger Pulis on the sidelines. The other result on the night meant Stoke haven’t secured progression to the last 32 just yet, but it is in sight. A point against Dynamo Kiev at the Britannia Stadium on December 1 will ensure their safe route through.
In a game hardly for the neutral, Huth, Wilkinson and Jones all went close inside the first half. Tel-Aviv were inexplicably poor and made the task far too easy for their visitors. The Israeli’s looked bereft of ideas when in possession in the final third.
Shotton was unfortunate not to score when his shot deflected off the post and back safely into the hands of the goalkeeper. Walters headed straight at 18-year-old Barak Levy.
Stoke might have taken the lead in the 43rd minute when Walters slotted past the goalkeeper, only for an offside decision to rule the effort out. All square at the break.
After some wasteful finishing by Stoke earlier in the match, they finally made the breakthrough. Walters nudged Savo Pavicevic out of the way to allow Whitehead to storm past and slide a controlled left-foot effort past the ‘keeper. A rare but deserved goal for the midfielder.
As Tel-Aviv offered little in response, it was no surprise when the lead was doubled. Crouch, introduced in place of Walters, scored with his first touch when the striker converted Whitehead’s driven cross after some good work by Jones.
Another substitute, Colautti, dragged one back for Tel-Aviv with a good glancing header from Sheran Yein’s cross. A case of too little, too late for Tel-Aviv.
Bolton await on Saturday, another test of how the squad can react from a draining European trip.