x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Pulis takes Stoke to a new level

Few expected his side to survive when they made their bow last season but the former coach of a Hong Kong club has defied the critics.

For someone who once spent a season at Happy Valley FC in Hong Kong, it is no wonder Tony Pulis has kept smiling in the face of adversity. Few expected his Stoke side to survive when they made their Premier League bow last season. Not only did they defy the critics, but they shook up the division with a spirit and style that has left teams dreading the prospect of a visit to the Britannia Stadium.

Arsenal will be hardly relishing their trip today, having been hustled and bustled to defeat on their last two visits to the Potteries. Thomas Vermaelen did not play in the Gunners' 3-1 FA Cup loss last month, but said: "People say it's like a war there; very physical and you have to be prepared." Pulis is the commander, plotting the destruction of opponents with bigger resources and reputations. After leading them to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup for the first time in 38 years on Wednesday, he could yet get the decoration his efforts have deserved in the shape of a trophy. Chelsea, the Cup holders, will not relish their last-eight meeting.

It is a welcome change in fortunes for Pulis, whose first spell at the club ended when the former chairman, Gunnar Gislason, said he had failed to "exploit the foreign transfer market". Despite saving Stoke from relegation to the then second division (now League One), Pulis was sacked by Gislason in 2005. But he was back within a year and what he has done since has been remarkable. He has affectionately compared Stoke to a "dog's home" for the way they have taken in unwanted players. But he has turned the likes of Ryan Shawcross into pedigree players.

@Email:akhan@thenational.ae Stoke v Arsenal, KO 9.30pm, Showsports 1 & 2