Simon Lowe: TP's top New Year mission has got to be to keep Begovic
TIS the season to be jolly.
With my cup of Yuletide joy running over, Christmas is as good a time as any to plot the inexorable progress Stoke City have made in their five years up with the big boys.
By Christmas in 2008, Stoke had amassed 20 points, the following year it was 21, then 22 and for the last campaign it was 24.
This time round Stoke have 25, half way to the fabled 50-point barrier which really is our benchmark for improvement this season.
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Anything over the half-century of points coupled with a top-10 finish has to be seen as a decent season for Stoke.
It is clear the way in which Tony Pulis is hell bent on getting to that target – by not conceding goals.
Nine clean sheets – that's half Stoke's Premier League matches in which Asmir Begovic has not had to pick the ball out of his net.
A goalless draw and point at Spurs was a fabulous Christmas present for Stokies, who roared City on dressed as Santa's reindeer and, er, Penguins!
Begovic pulled off a tremendous stop late on at White Hart Lane. Many have eulogised it, even comparing it to Gordon Banks's astonishing save from Pele in Mexico in 1970.
It was good, in fact very good, but Bego has now got to such a level that I would have been disappointed had he not saved it.
Perhaps that's a mark of just how well he has played this season, but I rarely feel worried that he is going to be beaten on the few occasions any attackers do get past the clutches of Ryan Shawcross and Robert Huth.
Is Begovic the best goalkeeper in the Premier League?
Quite possibly. He is certainly in the best current form, and playing as part of the best defence in Europe at the moment.
Would you swap him for the current incumbent between the posts at Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United or even Real Madrid, for whom Iker Casillas was dropped at the weekend.
Not on your nelly.
And that means that one of the January transfer window's key priorities is to keep hold of him ... and our central defenders. They are the backbone of our team.
Progress of another kind can be measured by the begrudging respect being shown by some of the national media in writing about Stoke's incredible defensive performances in this season of generally awful defensive play.
And also by the continual moaning from some quarters who just cannot accept that the approach of a so-called football genius such as Arsene Wenger can be exposed as being fatally flawed by little old Stoke City.
So Stokies can unwrap their presents and enjoy some festive cheer safe in the knowledge that while we make slow and steady progress, others struggle against decline.
None of the top six clubs are as strong this season as they have been in our previous campaigns. Only Everton, West Brom and West Ham of the clubs around Stoke are improving.
These are great times, to be enjoyed and celebrated.