The Pulis Derby: Predecessor Looms for Pardew and Hughes
The baseball cap is not back, yet the 59-year- old’s ghost will lurk at the Bet365 Stadium on Saturday when Stoke City host West Bromwich Albion.
Pulis was removed by West Brom earlier this season with the club having failed to win since a match since August. He spent seven superb years with Stoke, a spell which brought promotion and consolidation of their position as a top flight club.
Stoke fans are already muttering of a Pulis return, and commentators have already drifted into posing whether West Brom have actually improved without the Welshman. A man recently fired from a Premier League managerial position has again become a highly desirable commodity.
That is down to Pulis’ much-publicised relegation avoidance record. His teams are seldom in the bottom three, with safety a foregone conclusion. If you simply want a guarantee of being a Premier League club in 12 months’ time, Pulis is supposedly the man for you.
Third Time Lucky
Despite the murmurs coming from Stoke, this could well be Mark Hughes’ last match with the club. The 3-0 defeat to West Ham last weekend was an abrupt slap to wake them up from a false sense of Premier League security. Failure to beat the Baggies this weekend might not be enough for the owners to push him out the door, but the Potters’ faithful will certainly be at breaking point.
It has been suggested that Hughes will get until New Year to right the ship. Unfortunately, the water level is rising, and holes are appearing with each battle. Every dropped point increases the decibels of the Pulis whispers. Losing against West Brom would leave Stoke in the bottom three for Christmas Day.
Pulis left Stoke as his methods had worn tiresome, the Potters wanted to play a more aesthetically- pleasing style and break from the stagnation that had set in. For a period, that worked. Signings like Marko Arnautovic and Bojan were masterstrokes, and Stoke were rebranding themselves.
Three straight ninth-place finishes between 2013 and 2016 backed Hughes’ appointment. Dodging the Championship was no longer enough, European football was the aim. Their current predicament has made Europa League football seem lightyears away.
Capped by the sale of Arnautovic last summer – and his subsequent man of the match performance last weekend – Hughes’ tenure has taken a similar path to Pulis’. The only difference being a starker decline. Pulis stagnated, but Stoke have wilted drastically in the last 18 months.
Maybe it wasn’t so bad after all under Pulis
Their visitors this weekend are 19th, two points off the bottom of the table. Since appointing Alan Pardew, the Midlands club have taken two points from four Premier League fixtures, scoring one goal in the process.
To be fair to the former Newcastle manager, their last two matches have been with Liverpool and Manchester United. Little was expected, and a point from Anfield was a very good result, if rather fortuitous.
Watching West Brom, though, has remained a chore. Pardew was not expected to introduce high-lines and play six forwards, but the team is still without guile in the final third. The challenge remains to see where their goals can come from to stay up this season.
Drawing with Crystal Palace, losing to Swansea and taking a solitary point from their last two. That looks awfully similar to the trajectory Pulis was on.
Can Pardew breath some life into things?
Given the performances and near parody-worthy Pulis-nature of West Brom this season, change seemed a necessity. Pardew specialises in the ‘new manager bounce’, it all fitted together at the time.
Pardew’s football has had far too much resemblance to Pulis’ thus far. Training time is almost non- existent at the moment – which will have played a part – but Pardew must not try to replicate Pulis. Pulis is the expert of his trade. Pardew’s teams tend to have greater attacking impetus, and that is exactly what West Brom need.
There were signs of offensive improvement in his first match, but more is needed for the Baggies to pull away from the relegation zone.
The autumnal form meant the sacking of Pulis was no shock. As with so many managers, however, the longer Pardew struggles, the higher Pulis’ stock soars. Every underwhelming display heightens relegation peril, as the departure of the bottom-10 specialist casts a lengthening shadow over Pardew’s new job.
Whenever 17th play 19th in December it is enormous. For these two managers it is a career-altering occasion.
A fifth home defeat of the season will see frustration turn to rage in the crowd, and a fifth straight winless match for Pardew could provoke suggestions of another managerial change at the Hawthorns.
Pulis – who is not involved in the fixture at all – will no doubt be watching the match. Watching a match that will, one way or the other, ignite a debate with him at the very centre of it.