TONY PULIS believes that Stoke City's current position is a reminder of just how "relentless" the Barclays Premier League can be . . . as he prepares his side for their Britannia Stadium meeting with Aston Villa on Saturday.
Pulis maintains his side need another six points from their remaining seven matches to allay any concerns and hopes they can take a big step towards achieving that initial target with a good result against Villa in the first of them.
But City's manager rejected claims that it was a season-defining game and insisted that most of the pressure on him was working as hard as possible to ensure his players are relaxed when they step out for the local derby.
"Forty points has always been our initial target, and I maintain that we need to get to that target, despite other managers saying it may not need that many. So we need at least six points from seven games," commented Pulis.
"Four of those games are at home, where our form has been very good again this season, so they do hold the key to our hopes. But is this a season defining game? No, not at all, because we could lose the next five and win the final two to finish with 40 points, so I can't say that Saturday's game will define where we finish.
"There is no hiding from the fact that results have been disappointing of late, but the one thing this run has done is brought it home to everybody that this League is relentless. It doesn't curry any favours to anybody.
"If you're not on it, you get punished, and we're no different to anybody else. We're in this position because we haven't taken our chances when we should have and you can't keep doing that or you suffer the consequences.
"We have looked solid enough in games and created chances, but goals have been our problem. As a group, we've talked a lot about that this week. When we get those opportunities, we have got to start taking them."
He added: "If we were standing here talking about the fact that we getting beaten and being rolled over, you would be worried.
"But that has not been the case. Even at Everton last Saturday, a side who have a fantastic home record, we should have come out of it with a point. We had some great chances, hitting the bar and going close with headers, and on another day could have scored four or five. We have said that a lot of times this season though."
Pulis knows that for his side to rectify that situation, his players will need to be in the right frame of mind for the Villa match.
"The biggest thing is belief. We need them to go out there with the confidence and belief that they can perform," he stated.
"We want them to relax and play, we don't want anything hanging round them. So you do all you can to take the pressure off them, which is what I've been working as hard as possible with my staff to do this week.
"The supporters can play their part too in getting behind them, so that they go out there and give it a right go against Villa."