TONY Pulis probably feels he has to do most of his post-match Press conferences on the back foot – especially the winning ones.
Stoke City’s football is ugly but effective and the Potters boss regularly has to justify his side’s simplistic tactics and rugged style.
He might have felt he was on a stickier wicket than usual on Saturday – the contrast could hardly have been greater between Sunderland’s flowing football and Stoke’s physical play and, on top of that, there was the injustice of City getting away with two goals which were offside.
But Pulis was having none of that in the wake of Saturday’s 3-2 victory which put his side just four points behind their opponents.
The Stoke manager was quick to recall the pivotal moment of Sunderland’s season – 4.23pm, Saturday, November 6 – when a blatant Lee Cattermole handball was not spotted by the officials when the Potters visited the Stadium of Light.
Had the penalty been awarded, as it should have been, fragile Sunderland would probably have gone on to lose the game which followed the 5-1 defeat at Newcastle and the Black Cats’ season could have nosedived.
As it was, Sunderland won and never looked back and Pulis was quick to remind the media of that fact. “Two goals offside?” he queried. “Maybe. I don’t know about that.
“But I do know that when we played at Sunderland, Lee Cattermole caught the ball with one hand on the goal-line and flicked it over his shoulder and out for a corner with the other.
“So if we’ve got the luck on the day this time, well, I’m absolutely delighted.”
Pulis has done an outstanding job getting Stoke promoted to the Premier League for the first time and then keeping them there for three successive seasons.
But he has to be wary of rising expectations among Stoke fans, not least among those wearying of the club’s rough-house, direct style and disappointed with the sale in the January transfer window of Tuncay, arguably the most attractive and skilful player on the club’s books.
“We’ve had criticism for selling Tuncay, but his ambition was always to play in Germany and we couldn’t really stand in his way,” Pulis shrugged. “It was difficult to stop the kid from going.
“We have to dampen down expectations at this club in many respects because our aim is still just to stay in the Premier League this season, so I’m happy with the way we are going.”
And then he was back to defending his team’s performance.
“We might have been direct in the final third, but I thought we played some good football to get up there,” he offered.
Never mind the quality; feel the win, he might just as easily have said.