Stoke City: Whelan's back ... and he's playing for keeps
DON'T try telling Glenn Whelan that Sunday's clash with Arsenal is a meaningless game.
The biggest cup tie in Stoke's history is a mere eight days away, but first City's players have the chance to play themselves in – or out – of Tony Pulis's cup final side.
Besides, having waited so long to establish himself as a first-team regular, 27-year-old Whelan is making the most of every single game.
That's been obvious as he has sparkled in City's midfield since he was recalled to the side at the start of March.
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Whelan's unbroken nine-game run in the side has coincided with just two defeats and Stoke's best performances of the season.
The Republic of Ireland international wouldn't want to take all the credit for that, but there's no doubt his form has helped City move up a gear.
A regular run in the team is a welcome reward for a player who has been in and out of the side since helping Stoke win promotion three years ago.
He said: "When I wasn't in the team, I kept working hard and kept believing I was good enough to get back in.
"If you don't believe yourself that you are good enough then it is game over really.
"The players who were in the team instead of me were doing really well, so it was a matter of waiting and making sure I took my chance when it came.
"Hopefully I have done that, but I know if my performances start slacking then there will be people waiting to come in. I don't want that to happen."
Draws at Aston Villa and Blackpool and a home win over Wolves have shown Stoke haven't been taking things easy since they hammered Bolton 5-0 in the FA Cup semi-finals.
On the contrary, Whelan says the players were focused on securing Premier League safety as quickly as possible. They are now up to 10th and determined to stay in the top half after 12th and 11th-placed finishes in the last two seasons.
Whelan added: "Every year we have improved. To think we could finish in the top 10 this year, we well as being in the FA Cup final, is unbelievable.
"We have picked up positive results in our last three games so hopefully we can keep that up."
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