Stoke City: Tony Pulis charts course for European return
TONY Pulis says Stoke City should be aiming for another crack at the Europa League after finishing the first half of their 2012/13 Premier League campaign in eighth place.
The Potters would need an even better second half to the season to qualify for Europe via their league position – despite a highly-respectable 28 points after 19 fixtures.
But a nine-match unbeaten run going into tomorrow's visit of Southampton has left Stoke as a viable outside bet for a fifth-placed finish, while the FA Cup also offers them a possible chance to repeat last season's Europa League exploits.
Pulis certainly retains fond memories of a 2011/12 continental campaign that totalled a dozen matches in such far-flung countries as Croatia, Switzerland, Ukraine, Israel and Turkey before eventual elimination in Spain against Valencia last February.
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"It's something we should aim for," Pulis acknowledged, "and I'm sure players and fans alike would relish the challenge if we ever got there again.
"That's not to overlook how tough it was with the number and timing of the games and how that affected our league form," he added cautiously.
"It takes a lot to get used to games coming thick and fast on a Thursday and then a Sunday, not to mention the fact they kindly gave us away games in the league after virtually every away game in Europe – and they were long trips.
"But having the odds against us is what gets us going as a club, and that includes our fans."
But Pulis warned supporters against getting ahead of themselves as Stoke limber up for tomorrow's 3pm clash with a Southampton side desperate for points and seeking a second away win of the season.
It follows Stoke's wonderful 3-1 Boxing Day victory over Liverpool, but Pulis warned: "In many respects the Southampton game will be the toughest of the two because of the raised expectations.
"Southampton are giving it a good go and they will be a big challenge for us, especially if we are not up for the game.
"The other night was tremendous for everyone, and the players deserved their praise for the wonderful effort they put in, especially after losing a goal so early in the match.
"But that is gone and now we have to raise ourselves for another challenge. That is why we need our fans to be with us once more and just as noisy as the other night."
Pulis's concern over the Southampton fixture is further fuelled by an enforced reshuffle in defence because of one-match bans for skipper Ryan Shawcross, pictured left, and full-back Geoff Cameron following their fifth bookings of the season against Liverpool.
Matthew Upson is on standby for his first league appearance of the season in place of Shawcross at centre-half, while Ryan Shotton is the obvious stand-in for Cameron.