If you weren’t aware of just who was where in the Premier League table ahead of the midweek matches, it wouldn’t really surprise you to know that Stoke City are 10th.
They’ve pretty much always been there ever since their promotion from the Championship in 2008, bar a 3-1 defeat at Bolton in their first ever Premier League match which saw one attention-seeking bookmaker immediately pay out on the team to be relegated.
In the following years, such a move has been shown to be even more ridiculous than it looked back then.
Under manager Tony Pulis, Stoke have never been in relegation trouble at the end of any of their four completed Premier League seasons – instead focusing on an FA Cup final at the end of one of them and always proving to be one of the least appealing fixtures for any top flight team.
A lot of the attention is of course focused on the direct way that Stoke play, but Pulis, his players and the club’s fans won’t apologise for that. It is overblown anyway, and quite frankly why should they say sorry?
All teams should look to play to their strengths, and whilst the majority see their strengths change over time with the appointments of different managers and the signings of new players, Stoke’s style remains the same. Their strength is their strength.
They’ve been in the top flight for long enough now for people to look to combat it too, but with players such as Robert Huth, Ryan Shawcross, Steven Nzonzi and recently Kenwyne Jones all impressing this season, once again they’ll be nowhere near the drop zone come the end of the campaign. Flying in their face of their reputation, tidy, technical players such as Matthew Etherington and Michael Kightly have done well too.
Pulis has got all of his men to give every ounce of sweat for the club’s cause.
It may be the status quo that Stoke are where they are in the league, but where they are is surely the best position that a club of their size, infrastructure and value can be in. If that doesn’t deserve praise then what does?
It is easy for the neutrals to love Swansea – the opponents who beat Stoke 3-1 in their last Premier League match – and indeed to appreciate the football often played by Wigan – who the Potters face at the Britannia Stadium on Tuesday night – but whilst those two have survived in the top division by doing things their own way, Stoke’s similar story has been overlooked somewhat, with the focus instead on just how they’ve gone about their stay in the division.
Maybe they are victims of their own success.
Stoke have never really been in relegation trouble and so as such it is not seen as a great achievement when they do survive in the division, as they will do this season and in all likelihood for seasons to come.
They have become one of the constants of the Premier League, with their name now known continent-wide thanks to a run in the Europa League last season, another curiously under-celebrated feat that perhaps deserved a little more attention. Chelsea, Tottenham, Liverpool and Newcastle line up in the knockout stages of the tournament next month, and you can bet that more people will be talking about them.
They and you might not like Stoke’s approach to the game but surely it should be respected?
They haven’t become top division mainstays by accident. It has taken a lot of hard work to get them where they are.
And that is right in the middle of the Premier League, where they are likely to stick around for quite a while yet.