Stoke City must come out firing at Reading, says Ryan Shotton
RYAN Shotton says Stoke must hit the ground running from the first whistle of the new season.
The Potters travel to newly-promoted Reading in seven days' time – shades of 12 months earlier when they were the opposition for Norwich City when Premier League football returned to Carrow Road.
A red card for the Canaries and a 94th-minute equaliser from Kenwyne Jones earned Stoke a point that day, and Shotton is hoping for similar resilience – and good fortune – at the Madejski Stadium to stifle Reading's own promotion celebrations.
"We've got to start strong," insisted the Fenton-born youngster. "We've got a tough start and we've got to see how we come off the back of October and then go from there.
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"We've got to go at it at Reading and slow them down because they will be raring to go against us after just winning promotion."
Shotton insists he is putting no immediate pressure on himself to build on last season's personal success when he broke into the first team far more consistently than many – including himself, perhaps – could possibly have anticipated.
From the moment he claimed the decisive goal in the Europa League at Hajduk Split this time last year, and followed soon after with a more legitimate claim to the Premier League winner at West Brom, Shotton rarely looked back after filling in at right-back, on the right flank ... and even as an emergency striker.
"With Europe last year I got a chance, and also fitted in sometimes in the Prem," he fondly recalled.
"From my debut at Everton, the rest followed and it was brilliant for me.
"I've just got to learn from everything. If I can maintain my consistency, that's what I'm looking for.
"You will improve as a player as you get older, so I'm just taking it bit by bit and enjoying it."
Being something of a fringe starter, however, he is bound to be looking anxiously over his shoulder at any increase in competition for places following this summer's transfer dealings.
The arrival of Scotsman Jamie Ness, American Geoff Cameron and English-born winger Michael Kightly is certain to impact on his chances and test manager Tony Pulis's faith in his versatility, energy and enthusiasm.
"There's competition all through the club," added Shotton, "and if he brings in more players it strengthens the club. If it's that I'm not in, then I will just have to work harder to get back in – and preferably at right-back because that's my strongest position."
Being a hometown boy – one of only two in the senior squad alongside Andy Wilkinson – he must feel a little like those leading British athletes under pressure to perform and win medals at a home Olympics.
But just like Jessica Ennis and Co (and that's the first and last time a Stoke City article features a mention of Britain's golden girl), Shotton insists he is inspired, not pressured, by the demands of being a local lad carrying a torch for the area.
"I've always said it doesn't get any better than playing for your home town, and I'm looking forward to pushing on again."
Not that he's seen a lot of his home town over the past few weeks of pre-season training following trips to the high altitude of Switzerland, the heat and humidity of America, the drizzle of the English Riviera and even a 36-hour jaunt to southern Germany.
But he is among the first to acknowledge the painful benefits of such a rigorous and time-consuming schedule ahead of Stoke's fifth campaign in the Premier League.
"You come back to England and the lungs feel a lot bigger and a lot stronger, so it was good to go there.
"It was a good three weeks, but Switzerland was a tough one. It was five days of really hard work.
"America was seeing different areas and was a good experience."
And the benefits of such exertions and excursions will, fingers crossed, become evident in just seven days from now.