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Tony Pulis’ return to the Potteries mounts pressure on Mark Hughes

By September 23, 2016 No Comments

Mark Hughes’ Stoke host local rivals West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, knowing a win could lift the Potters to the dizzying heights of 18th.

It’s a worrying time for fans of the club, lets be honest.

Poor runs of form are not unheard of, but there seems to be something distinctly different about this one.

Yes, we have the star players of Jack Butland (ankle), Xherdan Shaqiri (thigh), Ibrahim Afellay (knee) and Stephen Ireland (broken leg) to return from injury – but other than that, we have been featuring a pretty steady XI for the past few games.

Indeed, even against Hull City in Wednesday night’s EFL Cup, a first choice XI bar-a-couple of players was selected – and that resulted in a 2-1 loss.

OK. We may have played better in that game than any other so far this season. We may indeed have dominated the game. But we didn’t win.

We conceded two goals from a total of eight shots. We could only convert one of the 28 chances we created.

In Premier League games, we’ve so far blamed the referee and the new rules. And I totally understand that there have been some really frustrating instances so far this season, and we do seem to be getting singled out (yet again) for punishment under the new rules.

But can we really continue to blame the officials for us conceding four goals three times so far in the league this year? Can we blame them for us only scoring thrice in five league games?

Apparently we can’t. So, on Wednesday, we moved onto the “we were unlucky” line.

It’s ridiculous and stinks of desperation.

The pressure really is on Mark Hughes though heading in to this weekend, as he goes head-to-head with former Potters boss and former fan-favourite Tony Pulis.

Pulis has his own landmark this weekend, as he takes charge for the 1000th time – whilst there’s no doubt that Saido Berahino, the Baggies’ striker pursued by Hughes over the summer, will also be looking to prove a point at the bet365 Stadium.

Three points against the Baggies will indeed push Stoke closer to safety – level on points with (or one behind) a host of teams. Lose, though, and the Potters will find themselves nine points behind a team that they finished eight points ahead of last term.

And that’s a worry, given the (financial) backing that Hughes has had in the last two transfer windows.

Despite chairman Peter Coates coming out last weekend in defence of Hughes, it’s unlikely his patience will last too much longer given the club’s previous stature and the finances pumped into the club via parent company bet365.

Financial statements from the 12-months up to June 2015 released earlier this week show a slight increase in operating profit. The numbers are likely to look much healthier in a further year’s time with the new TV licensing deal in place – the Coates family will definitely not be wanting to miss out on a few years of the Premier League gravytrain.

He might not have his P45 in-hand soon, but Hughes and his backroom staff need to turn things around promptly if they’re to see the remainder of this season from the bet365 dugouts.