Away Days key to Stoke City’s Survival
For Stoke City supporters, this season has been an extraordinary journey.
Stoke have come along way since that reality biting opener at Bolton and the harsh lessons dished out during two away trips to Manchester and another in Blackburn.
When the fixture list came out last June many scoffed at Stoke City’s chances of Premier League survival, and bookies, rather presumptuously, even started paying out on our relegation.
But we’ll hear more about that later.
James Beattie’s arrival has been pivotal in the club’s renewed optimism
It has been a recurring theme for Stoke fans this season to endure tiresome and inevitable turnarounds in opinion. Win a few games, and of course we’ll beat the drop, lose a few, and we’re certainties to go down.
For the moment, at least, an invigorating away performance at Villa (taking 4 points from them this season) and last Wednesday’s convincing revenge job on Bolton, hints massively that the trends are beginning to turn in Stoke’s favour and I am quietly confident we’ll avoid relegation.
Stoke never came into the PL content with making up the numbers, yet presumptions that they would, may prove to be the reason why Stoke will survive.
In fact, such ignorance has not just provided Tony Pulis and his players with enough ammunition to wage a small war of attrition, it seems to have kick-started a mutiny similar to one staged by a young Kevin Keegan when told he was too small to deliver newspapers.
Mighty Mouse Keegan stood only 5’8″ but played like he was 6’10”
Key To Stoke’s Survival Chances
Stoke are a team with an ever growing confidence. Pulis has again bought well in the transfer window and new signing’s Matty Etherington, and in particular James Beattie, have breathed fresh impetus into the side; both endearing themselves instantly to the Stoke City faithful.
Glenn Whelan and Liam Lawrence
Whelan’s metamorphous from a peripheral water carrier into a PL attacking midfielder of some distinction is an excellent boost to Stoke’s survival chances.
Liam Lawrence’s return could not have come at a better time for Stoke City
Couple this with the return of last year’s hero Liam Lawrence, and Stoke look capable of providing Beattie with yet more opportunities to further endorse his rising cult status. The emergence of both Irishmen couldn’t have come at a better time for the club.
As players like Whelan continue to adapt, so too does the manager. In spite of criticism, Pulis has diligently gone about his business. And he isn’t scared to make changes.
Lord Mandelson likes custard but not GREEN custard
At Villa Park, when attempts to nullify their wingers proved more futile than pouring green custard over Lord Mandelson (for those of you up on UK news), to Pulis’ credit, he had the sagacity to change things. Whelan and Fuller came on and deservedly rescued a point for the visitors.
Whilst agreeing with most commentators who suggest that it will be Stoke’s home form that will keep them in this division, I feel it will be our remaining away fixtures that will prove most significant.
Home games against our fellow strugglers I am confident we can win. It will be results in these three key away games, however, which I feel will ultimately grant us safety: WBA (a); Fulham (a); Hull City (a). 5-7 points will do nicely.
Who’ll Go Down Instead?
Unless WBA dramatically turn things around, which I doubt, they are near enough down. That’s not to say they won’t have a huge part to play in who joins them.
After studiously scrutinizing the remaining fixtures, I will shock a few and speculate that Hull City will return to the Championship as well, and any one from Portsmouth, Newcastle and Middlesbrough could follow.
Phil Brown and Hull City, my tip to finish in the bottom 3
Before the season began, long before a ball was kicked back in anger, I happened to be in London, or to be more precise, in the home of an Arsenal season ticket holder.
The conversation we shared I recall vividly.
Commending me on what he described as Stoke’s shock promotion, he patronised me further – in a way only fans of a ‘Bigger Club’ could – by suggesting Stoke should savour the experience of top-flight football, as it likely to be short lived.
My concerns that Stoke’s survival conundrum might include a nervy visit to Arsenal in desperate need of a result, he reassured me were wildly ambitious, implying Stoke would already be down.
Nobody would’ve believed Stoke could upset the likes of Arsenal
What a difference a season can make.
I am starting to believe that Stoke will be safe by the end of our penultimate game, at home to Wigan, and the only significance riding on our final day trip to the Emirates will be whether or not Arsenal will be able to dislodge Villa to secure Champions League football.
Join me again for what (Phil Brown) promises will be a ‘squeaky-bum’ finale. It will surely go down as one of the tightest relegation battles in history. I am just thankful Stoke City are a part of it.