Lou Macari: Stoke City's support act helping them to stabilise Premier League position
I CAN'T say I was too surprised to hear that Stoke fans remained firmly behind their players on Saturday.
It might not have been the best game in the world against West Brom, but they clearly saw the bigger picture.
And that is helping ensure that their club stays where it matters – in the Premier League.
No one can deny Stoke are going through a sticky patch, but you have to try to be philosophical and accept that there are ups and downs in this game.
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Not so long ago there was talk of Stoke breaking this clean-sheet record and that clean-sheet record.
Now we are worrying about records of a different kind after a long run with few goals and even fewer victories.
You just hope that supporters also put their passion aside for a minute and recognise their club's achievement so far.
I know I'd have settled for staying in the Premier League year in, year out when they won promotion five years ago.
I think you have to appreciate where Stoke City are, and may always be, when it comes to the Premier League pecking order.
There will be fans saying 'hang on, though, haven't we spent millions on transfers over the last few years?'
That's true to a degree, but I would add that it's not so much the fees that measure the quality of a player, but the wages he's on.
Stoke will be in the bottom half of the Premier League when it comes to wages and no one should be surprised by that when you look at the size of other clubs.
If you're talking about a top, top player these days, you are probably talking about £80,000-a-week as a starting point and I'm sure Stoke are not paying out anything like that figure.
So we have to be realistic on the kind of genuine quality they can attract compared to bigger clubs with much bigger budgets.
But there is no shame in that, believe me, because they are now in a league containing some of the biggest clubs in the world.
I'm confident that with Peter Coates at the helm, we won't see Stoke City spending wildly over the top on a dud signing.
He's a genuine football man, certainly compared to other chairmen, so he would not hesitate in jumping in to stop a glaringly bad deal.
You do wonder if the same can be said at the likes of Queens Park Rangers, and before them Aston Villa.
There you have owners full of good intention, but with little knowledge of the game and its players.
And certainly in QPR's case, you have an example where the wages perhaps don't give you a measure of a player's quality because they have drastically over paid new signings in the last two transfer windows.
QPR owner Tony Fernandez backed Mark Hughes to the hilt, but many of his expensive recruits were soon abandoned when Harry Redknapp replaced him as manager.
So it does make you wonder who was advising on all that expenditure.
Here, I believe, is an example of where genuine football people, those who've been around the game at various levels for decades, not just years, have a huge part to play still.
And that's why I am surprised that Stoke feel they can wave goodbye to someone of John Rudge's experience when his contract runs out this summer.
It can be quite easy to spot a good player because everyone has an eye for a great bit of skill.
But it's not so easy to spot a flaw in a player's game that could become a real problem.
And unless you're on the circuit watching games on a wet Wednesday in Grimsby, as John Rudge has done for many a year, you don't hear of things on the grapevine that could warn you off a particular player.
Whenever I was thinking of making a signing, I'd always wonder why his club was willing to sell.
If it was just for financial reasons and I was satisfied with the player's ability and character, then bingo.
But if they weren't pressured financially, I'd be a bit suspicious.
Did they want a bad apple out of the club? Is there an injury that could become a problem? Have his legs gone? All these questions go through your head.
No manager ever gets it right with new signings 100 per cent of the time.
But I reckon a manager who's getting the best and widest possible advice stands more chance than most.
I KNOW Rio Ferdinand has now pulled out of the England squad, but his recall did raise the issue of English centre-halves.
Can you name two English centre-halves who look like making a good combination for the next four or five years because I know I can't?
The sad truth is there simply aren't any convincing pretenders to the crown that Ferdinand and John Terry enjoyed as England's last great defensive partnership.
There certainly isn't another Ferdinand, Terry, Adams, Campbell or Butcher coming through from what I can see.
And I'm afraid you can say similar things about many other positions in the team as well.