Stoke City: Pulis proves critics wrong as team selection is vindicated
CAN I just double check – Stoke City are definitely out of Europe aren't they?
I only ask because "visiting side look good in possession, but are completely hopeless defending City's set-pieces" is more what we'd expect from FC Thun, Maccabi Tel-Aviv or Besiktas at the Britannia rather than Premier League opposition.
Happily, the Welsh wonders went the same way as opposition from Switzerland, Israel and Turkey as this 2-0 win ended Stoke's run of four league defeats and made them, if not actually safe from relegation, certainly very nearly safe.
City are still not playing anything like as well as they were at the end of last season, but the fact they are no longer in the Europa League – thanks for confirmation by the way – should make their task a little easier.
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The burdens of European competition had been the hot topic of the week after Tony Pulis left players out of the squad for Valencia so he could name an entirely different starting 11 for the Swansea game.
After Thursday's line-up, no-one would have been amazed by Sunday's, although Jermaine Pennant will remain the most controversial non-selection after failing to make the starting 11 for either game.
If the right winger feels rather unappreciated by the Stoke City management he might reflect that this is nothing new.
Ten years ago, then-Stoke boss Gudjon Thordarson persuaded Arsene Wenger to let a young Pennant come on loan to Stoke. However, City then had a couple of injuries in defence so Thordarson gave Pennant a miss and signed Mike Flynn from Stockport County instead.
While Ryan Shotton came in for Pennant, and did rather well, Tony Pulis's other big decision was to replace Thomas Sorensen with Asmir Begovic as City's Premier League keeper.
Pulis explained he made the decision after Sorensen's mistakes for goals against West Brom and Fulham.
The manager is less interested in being popular than in doing what he thinks is right for the team.
However, in this instance, he had to break the bad news to the most anguished Dane since Hamlet got the hump.
As it turned out, it didn't really matter who played because City's keeper didn't have anything to do until Begovic, pictured right, made a stunning save to turn Steven Caulker's header on to the bar.
But that was deep into injury time and, with Stoke 2-0 up, the game was as good as gone for the Swans.
The match certainly saw a clash of styles against a Swansea team who looked very good on the ball, but didn't create much, against a Stoke side who are struggling in open play, but scored from two set-pieces.
Maybe it was the fact that Matthew Upson and Peter Crouch's goals had enabled the home fans to relax, but the Stokies didn't give the Swans anything like the sort of hammering other sides get from the Britannia faithful.
There was even sympathy for impressive winger Nathan Dyer as his substitution was greeted with chants towards manager Brendan Rodgers of "you don't know what you're doing", from the Stoke fans, along with cries of "Tony, sign him up".
We'll have to wait and see on that one, but it's hard to see City playing like Swansea any time soon.
Pennant might be wondering if he is in the doghouse with Pulis, but City's keeper and back four would still be paddling their own way back from Valencia if they had passed the ball out from the back like the Swans did yesterday.
Stoke closed them down superbly, but that didn't stop the Swansea rearguard from playing a succession of short passes which could hardly have been more audacious if they had been juggling live pythons at the same time.
Credit to them for sticking to their principles, but even Arsene Wenger would have been urging them to whack it long at some points as the Stoke faithful "ooed" and "aahed" every time a Swans defender escaped by the skin of his teeth.
The atmosphere was more muted than it had been in Valencia, but it was always going to be difficult to match what many City fans have described as their best-ever away trip with the Potters.
City's 5,000 travelling army have received plenty of praise from the Spanish media, including a piece in the clearly knowledgeable Levante-EMV which said the Valencia supporters had been given a lesson in how to encourage their team.
The paper went on to say the Stoke fans were: "more beautiful than the game."
Without wishing to crawl to the Boothen Enders, that description applies rather neatly to yesterday's match.
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