Tony Pulis: West Brom will be Stoke City's toughest test yet
Stoke boss Tony Pulis believes Steve Clarke’s West Brom side will provide their toughest test yet at The Hawthorns. Martin Spinks reports...
TONY Pulis is warning that today’s trip to West Bromwich Albion will be Stoke’s toughest yet to The Hawthorns in the Premier League.
City have won all three previous visits – not even conceding a goal – and they also go into this afternoon’s clash with an astonishing record of just two defeats in their last 29 league meetings with Albion.
The Baggies are a different proposition these days, though, winning six out of seven at home this term and bobbing along in fourth place under new boss Steve Clarke.
“It will be our toughest trip there,” Pulis stressed. “You look at West Brom’s form and you have to recognise it’s probably going to be our toughest challenge.
“What we have done in the past is in the past. This is a fresh challenge.
“I obviously didn’t see their loss at Swansea this week, but what I do know is that after that Steve will have them fired up and coming out spitting.
“I love going to Midland grounds because of the atmosphere and I’m sure we will get some stick from their supporters… and rightly so.
“But hopefully those two goals on Wednesday night (to beat Newcastle late on) will give us the confidence we will need at West Brom.”
Pulis was full of praise for Clarke’s immediate impact on affairs at The Hawthorns in his first job at the helm.
“I’ve known Steve a long time,” said Pulis. “He’s been a coach and assistant manager for a long time and at good clubs and big clubs.
“He’s taken his opportunity with both hands and done a fantastic job. Their chairman also deserves credit – and he’s certainly rewarded his chairman.
“I’ve spoken to him a lot over the years and asked his opinion about players.
“They are a bit like Newcastle last season, the surprise package, and they certainly deserve to be up there because they have played some fantastic football.
“They seem to have the right people in the right places, a really well-balanced team, and are exceptionally well coached, which you would expect with someone of Steve’s qualities.”
Stoke make the short trip south still seeking a first away win of the season – and a first away win in the Premier League since the start of 2012.
But Pulis says that is an unfair statistic hovering over his players as they seek to emulate last season’s late win at The Hawthorns courtesy of a first goal for sub Ryan Shotton.
“I think we’ve played well away from home this season and we’ve been unfortunate,” he contested.
“We just need a bit of luck in front of goal and hopefully those two goals on Wednesday night will give us the confidence to go to West Brom.
“We should have more points away from home. We’ve drawn four and could easily have won those games.”
Andy Wilkinson has responded to treatment on his injured back and returned to training this week, leaving him available for the bench this afternoon if needed.
That means another run out for the makeshift combination at full-back of Shotton on the right and Geoff Cameron on the left.
“The great thing is, those two have shown a willingness to get forward,” Pulis observed.
“I’ve been pleased with the two of them, but especially Geoff, who’s now playing left back. He was just finding his feet at right-back and now he’s being asked to play left-back.”
There might have been a ready-made replacement there once Marc Wilson broke his leg last month – if only Pulis had pressed ahead with signing Dynamo Kiev’s Goran Popov in the summer.
But he insists that is water under the bridge as he faces an Albion side likely to include Popov on the bench this afternoon.
“In the end, for one reason or another, the club couldn’t do the deal,” said Pulis.
“He had a couple of days here and he was a lovely lad. But now he’s joined a great football club and I’m sure he’s having a good time.
“He’s good back-up there because (Liam) Ridgewell has played most of the games at left-back for them this season.”
TONY Pulis has flat-batted away any suggestion he might make a cheeky bid for David Beckham following his decision to leave LA Galaxy.
“No,” he grinned. “He’s a fantastic player and I’ve met him a few times, he’s a supreme gentleman. And what he has done for football is immense, but we won’t be interested in him.”