TONY PULIS is hoping a "surreal" campaign in the Barclays Premier League can yield a top ten finish for Stoke City.
The Potters face Southampton in their season finale at St. Mary's Stadium on Sunday knowing that a victory, combined with defeat for West Ham, will see them secure their highest-ever finish in the modern top-flight.
That would represent a remarkable achievement after a topsy-turvy campaign that featured an impressive 10-match unbeaten run as well as a seven-game winless streak.
Pulis says: "It's been a surreal season in lots of respects because clubs have had good runs and you think they are going to have a good season and then they've fallen away badly.
"It's happened to us; before Christmas we had a great run of games, got lots of points and then fell away at the turn of the year.
"You can pick five or six other clubs in the middle of the table who, for one reason or another, have done exactly the same.
"They've had real, real good runs and then basically just fallen off.
"We're just hoping that we go to Southampton and get a result and keep ourselves in what would be a really good position to finish the Premier League season in."
Pulis has not been immune from criticism from the terraces this season, but the Welshman has been around long enough not to allow that to distract him from the job in hand.
"For the past six years, we've had unprecedented success and if you fall away from that or if you drop off it a little bit you are going to endure criticism," he added.
"As a manager, it's difficult; you are under the spotlight 10 or 20 times more than any other League in this country so if things aren't going well you will be under the microscope. You just have to handle it and get on with it.
"If people want to criticise you for what you've done then fine; you have to accept it.
"Supporters have a right to say what they want to say. I'm pretty down to earth and I understand that there a lot of people out there that, no matter what you give them, will always want more.
"The expectations at this Football Club have gone through the roof over the past few years and there's a ceiling that sometimes you will hit and drop down a little bit.
"I understand that, but there's people out there who don't and that's fine. That's not a problem, you have to accept that and get on with it."
The Potters, who will wear their new 2013-14 away kit for the first time against Southampton, will be without the suspended Charlie Adam and have doubts surrounding midfielder Glenn Whelan (groin) and winger Brek Shea (calf).