In a week in which another six goals have rattled into our net on our travels, I couldn’t help notice that Stoke City’s recent successful run has been built on the back of seven clean sheets in eight games. “Very pleased,” Tony Pulis declared at the weekend, claiming the defensive solidity came despite playing four out and out strikers, thanks to the protection offered the rearguard by his central midfield pairing (who he described as “smashing lads” for good measure).
Yet Pulis is still not accepted at the Britannia – there was a surreal bickering during the summer where Plymouth fans wanted Stoke to take back their manager while the Stokies wanted him to stay put. Since leaving the Gills, he’s rarely been accepted and has never been loved. A classic case of a reputation going before him – he’s left two clubs under the cloud of disrepute charges (we all have our opinions on what happened at Priestfield, but the consensus seems to be that there was dirty wrong-doing on both sides, and there was always a suspicion that his departure from Portsmouth was engineered by our own chairman, coming as it did following our visit to Fratton Park, where Scally had good friends in the boardroom), while opposition fans remember what it’s like to face a Pulis side. Uncompromising and dull, I should imagine.
But…uncompromising, dull and little chance of beating them. I still love him to death for what he achieved at our club – even without troubling any ripsnorting goal-scoring records, the sheer unexpected joy of that first promotion season will never be forgotten, while the side he built to all but take us into Division 1, with it’s never-say-die charge mentality was compelling to watch. But what Plymouth and Stoke fans don’t realise is that with Pulis at the helm they will never get relegated, which like it or not will always be a threat hanging over their clubs at their current level. Shut up shop, stifle the life out of games and nick the odd 1-0 victory and you’ll summon up enough points to stay out of trouble. Give him a bit of financial backing, and he’ll develop a swash-buckling outfit that can steamroller the best of them, as they might just find out in the Potteries.
I guess football supporters want it all…the style, the passion, the results. While even Stoke’s own followers are bemoaning the manner of their rise, we’re “suffering” a season where goals are flying in at both ends. Only Scunthorpe and Crewe have scored more than the Gills, only Orient and Brentford have shipped more. We’ve scored three goals on five occasions away from home since April (over a third of our fixtures) yet have only two draws to show for those fixtures. We’ve suffered heart-wrenching agony with late turn-rounds at Valley Parade, Brisbane Road and Gresty Road, yet finally took out some revenge on Chesterfield. The results suggest the most exciting season in our history.
Yet as I write, I bet the poor sods on their way home from Port Vale aren’t exactly whooping. Goals are all very well. Results are all very well. We want the latter. And when we get the latter we want the former as well. Gills are actually pretty close to a decent side. Take away the mental fragility. Get Chorley and Sancho playing together. Give them some protection with a decent holding midfielder (Pouton anyone?). And keep hold of Jarvis for as long as humanely possible. We might yet consolidate in the top half of the table, out-scoring the opposition at Priestfield and nicking more than the odd away result.
OK, enough with the rose-tinted spectacles, Jepson’s got a long way to go to emulate Pulis but all’s not lost. As for Stoke…what exactly do they expect? They’ve got Mama Sidibe leading their attack….
The Morty Vicker