Danny Higginbotham: Pedigree Stoke City struggling to play underdog game
IT'S at times like this, when things aren't going great at Stoke, that you're glad you have a chairman like Peter Coates.
Tony Pulis, pictured below, has done an outstanding job, and that should not be forgotten in frustrating times, but some chairmen would still question the situation.
Not Peter Coates. He looks at the bigger picture, and every time there has been a bad patch at Stoke, TP has turned it round with the chairman's support.
Stoke are in a frustrating position, one where there is probably not much to be gained. There is no chance of relegation, they are seven points off ninth and they are out of the FA Cup.
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Yes, there is that elusive top-10 spot they have been so desperate for, and they could still get it, but I reckon where they are now is where they will finish.
Stoke have one thing many teams crave and that is stability.
I remember being at Southampton when we finished eighth and got to the FA Cup final.
That was a great achievement, but when Gordon Strachan left we then went through three managers in just over a season and got relegated.
The chairman at the time, Rupert Lowe, forgot why Southampton had been successful – through stability. So after Messrs Sturrock, Wigley and Redknapp had been and gone we found ourselves in the Championship.
Peter Coates just lets TP get on with the footballing side of things, and while a lot of money has been spent, Stoke have nonetheless cemented their place in the Premier League.
I think the biggest issue at the moment is the fact they have lost their identity, but that's only natural as the team progresses.
Gone are the days when they were always under-dogs and blood, sweat and tears got them results.
Now they have a different brand of player, one who can mix it up more, and that's where the problem lies in my opinion.
You now have more Stoke players who are comfortable on the ball and want to play, instead of the battlers of previous seasons who would bully the life out of the opposition and get a piece of magic from a Whelan, Fuller or Etherington which would be enough to win the game.
Now they have lads all over the park who can do that, but the bullying and pressing has died down.
The identity that Stoke had is changing. It is during these times that there will be inconsistent results until the players become comfortable with a new-found persona.
There was no better atmosphere at the Brit than when a flying tackle came in and an opponent was flattened fairly... the fans and players were as one.
Those days have gone and now it's more likely to be a piece of skill that gets the crowd excited.
Stoke must let the shackles off because they now have the players to do this and play attractive football.
For me, the rest of the season should be seen as an opportunity to evolve and to try different things to really kick on next season.
STOKE go to Newcastle on Sunday, and I know only too well that football really is a religion in the north east.
I spent a year at Sunderland, and one of my personal highlights was scoring against Newcastle.
After the game, a fan said he was going to name his son after me when he was born in the next few days.
Newcastle spent wisely in January, and this will be a tough test for Stoke.
To get anything, they will have to keep their forward-thinking players very quiet and silence the crowd.
If they can do this, then they have a chance.
AS a Manchester United fan, I found Nani's red card against Real Madrid disgraceful.
I always watch to see where the player is looking before the foul, and Nani never took his eye off the ball. It was an attacker's challenge and he should have been booked, but no more than that.
In the Premier League it would have been a booking, at most.
When I played abroad it always irritated me the way officials would stop play for the most minor things. It was like the whole game was about the referee and not the players.
I'D like to wish my old mate Rory Delap all the best when he turns out for Barnsley at Man City in the FA Cup this weekend because I'd love to see him get another run-out at Wembley Stadium.