We had the pleasure of talking to James Whittaker, the resident Stoke City blogger for ESPN FC, who shared his opinions of the Potters.
RBM - On the form table, Stoke City are undergoing a miserable run with just five points in their last eight games. What happened?
JW - The problem extends way beyond the last 8 games unfortunately, in fact we have won just 8 in the last 41. Since the Cup Final it has been a downward spiral and with the manager attempting to ‘evolve’ by signing the likes of Crouch he has regressed away from everything that made us good and we’re suffering due to him being too stubborn to admit it.
RBM - What's the Potters motivation going into the last eight games of the season, play spoiler for other teams?
JW - Call me a pessimist but I have very real concerns about relegation the motivation is staying up so I’m hoping other teams will be helping us out. Watching the last few games in particular I just can’t see where the next goal is coming from let alone win. Targeting our home games against Villa and Norwich is the best bet but in the meantime everything is crossed.
RBM - Briefly, and I know this is a sensitive point for you, three things that bother you about Tony Pulis and his management style?
JW - Haha, where to start!
1 – Square pegs in round holes – His continued insistence to play players out of position is a huge bug bear, we have needed a left back for years and he hasn’t signed one despite having 10 transfer windows to do so, opting instead for centre backs. We signed an international CB in Geoff Cameron and he has played every position on the pitch bar furthermost striker and keeper, yet when Huth was suspended he played our only left back there and put Geoff up front with Crouch.
2 – Playing favourites over form – Every manager has his favourites but Pulis takes it to another level. Jonathan Walters, whilst a great athlete, is not a goalscorer and yet is kept in the side whilst Kenwyne Jones, Michael Owen and Cameron Jerome sit scratching themselves on the bench, that’s when he’s not playing on the wing. Crouch is the other bug bear, Jones was top scorer firing us to a Cup Final and Europe, whilst he was lazy at times he suited Pulis’ system to the ground but when the opportunity of Crouch came along he was dropped for no reason and despite being a good player he isn’t suited to us at all and Pulis refuses to change the system. Only when Crouch was injured did Jones come back in, scoring vital goals yet when Crouch was fit again he was dropped once more – there is little motivation for the bench players to do well.
3 – Negativity – He’s scared of his own shadow and even at home will play 4 CBs, 2 DM’s and one winger with Walters running around to ‘help’. He goes onto the pitch at 3pm with a point and his aim is to protect it, not to take all 3. Our away form is astonishingly poor, 1 win in 24 games! The fact he doesn’t or won’t see the problem is driving fans to distraction, instead he blames it on things not dropping for us and being unlucky.
RBM - Speaking of Pulis, what is his contract situation, and current relationship with owner Peter Coates?
JW - Pulis has been on a 12 month rolling contract since his return so any departure would be at minimal cost comparatively speaking. He is very close to Peter Coates and the ‘Coates family’ mentioning them in every other interview. This is quite surprising when you consider how much of the Chairman’s money he has wasted over the years on players who don’t fit his system. The current concern is that the strength of that relationship will stop the Chairman from doing what needs to be done.
RBM - How has the Academy been doing? Who are the players you have identified as potential future stars?
JW - The Academy has gone through tremendous change and recently achieved Category A status under the new system which is brilliant news. The problem we have though is that the manager does not trust youth in the slightest so it will never be utilised during his tenure. We have a few decent players who you could argue should be involved on the bench, but Pulis likes to loan them out instead of offering them that opportunity.
The best such prospect is Florent Cuvelier, a Belgian U21 who has captained his country and is currently on loan at Peterborough. He is a skilful midfielder, good with both feet and appears to have a very level head whenever he is interviewed. I’m hoping he excels on loan so the manager has little choice but to involve him next season but a similar situation happened with Ben Marshall, a young winger who was sold on to Leicester at a time when we were crying out for one. The manager at that point was using a right back (who used to be a centre back) there instead.
RBM - Were there any significant changes made to the squad during the January transfer window?
JW - As alluded to above, whilst we hoped and prayed for a left back or winger to come in and make an immediate impact we signed players for the future in Jack Butland and Brek Shea. Young and foreign players aren’t Pulis’ forte and these were very much gift wrapped courtesy of their Agent who is a huge Stoke fan. The concept of youth and foreign investment moving forward is something the Chairman is keen to promote, again, Pulis wouldn’t appear to be the best man to champion and buy into that on paper.
RBM - Finally, a score prediction for Saturday's game at Goodison? Who are you expecting to shine?
JW - I’m not sure you’ll see anyone shine per sé but you’ll notice the composure of N’Zonzi in the middle who will do his best to control our movement around the pitch. Robert Huth is also back from his ban so will be eager to impress, though will be disappointed (along with Shawcross) there won’t be a re-match with Fellaini given his own suspension. My prediction is a 2-0 win for Everton.