WHEN Tony Pulis first walked through the doors at the Britannia Stadium ten years ago today . . . nobody would have dared predict the unprecedented impact the Welshman would have upon the Football Club.
Elevating the Potters from the depths of the Championship to mid-table security in the Premier League, taking the Club to its first-ever FA Cup Final and earning a first crack at continental competition for almost 30-years in the process, it’s fair to say that Pulis has certainly etched his name into the history books during his two spells in charge.
Whilst he would be the first to admit that his initial appointment as manager back in 2002 wasn’t met with the greatest of welcomes from the City faithful, there is no doubting that his arrival heralded the start of a long overdue golden era for the Club.
His immediate priority upon taking over the reins from Steve Cotterill, who unexpectedly departed after just four months in charge, was to retain the side’s Championship status – a task which at one point looked inconceivable following a tenth successive defeat.
However, Pulis displayed his credentials by shrewdly working the transfer market to lure the likes of Mark Crossley and Ade Akinbiyi to the Potteries, and both played an instrumental role in a remarkable upturn of fortunes, which culminated in a dramatic last day escape, courtesy of a 1-0 victory against already-promoted Reading.
From there on in, there has been no looking back! Consecutive mid-table finishes followed, although even that was not good enough for the Icelandic Consortium, as they opted to relieve Pulis of his duties in the summer of 2005 for ‘failing to exploit the foreign transfer market’.
Then Director Peter Coates signalled his intention to take over the Club for a second time twelve months later, but only on the condition that Pulis would agree to make a return to the Britannia Stadium following a successful season in charge of Plymouth Argyle. Pulis obliged, the Icelandics agreed to the sale and a momentous deal was sealed.
The pair spoke of a three-year plan to get the Club into a position in which it could realistically challenge for promotion to the Premier League. It took Pulis just six-months to put a squad of players together, however, which could, and maybe should, have gone on to reach the promised land in double-quick time.
Big name signings including Lee Hendrie, Salif Diao, Andy Griffin and Ricardo Fuller helped ignite a serious promotion push for the Potters during the 2006/07 season, and whilst it ultimately ended in heartbreak, missing out on the play-offs on the final day of the season, the signs were there that the Coates/Pulis partnership really did mean business.
Twelve months later though, the ‘impossible dream’ became a reality, as Pulis masterminded a famous and emotional promotion-winning campaign, which would see the Potters ply their trade in the Barclays Premier League in 2008 for the first-ever time.
A 3-1 opening day defeat against Bolton Wanderers gave enough confidence to a certain bookmaker to pay out on the Potters being relegated come the end of the season, but in true Pulis fashion, it was he who had the last laugh by guiding the Club to an unimaginable twelfth place finish, as well as reaching the last eight of the League Cup for the first time in 30 years.
Second season syndrome was averted in 2009/10 as Pulis again defied the odds and led his side to another mid-table finish, beating the previous season’s points tally of 45 in the process. An FA Cup run which saw the Potters claim the scalps of Arsenal and Manchester City eventually came to an unfortunate end at Stamford Bridge in the Quarter-Finals.
Cup fever again swept through the Potteries the following season as the Welsh boss achieved a feat that no other boss has managed in charge of the Club – leading the side out at Wembley in an FA Cup Final.
What made this achievement all the more special was the emphatic nature of the side’s Semi-Final success, ironically against Bolton Wanderers. Matthew Etherington, Robert Huth, Kenwyne Jones, a then Club record £8 million signing, and a brace from Jonathan Walters secured a scintillating 5-0 victory at Wembley, setting up a showpiece Final encounter with Manchester City.
Whilst Yaya Toure’s late strike broke the hearts of Pulis and co, there was consolation in the fact that the Potters would return to the European stage, courtesy of Manchester City’s qualification for the Champions League, by virtue of their Premier League finish.
Coates backed Pulis with an almighty war-chest during the summer transfer window as he looked to build a squad capable of challenging on four different fronts, and his patience paid off when he managed to capture Peter Crouch, Wilson Palacios and Cameron Jerome on a dramatic transfer deadline day to add to the captures of Jonathan Woodgate and Matthew Upson.
Their arrivals helped Stoke shine on the European stage, earning themselves the scalps of Hajduk Split and FC Thun in the Qualifying rounds, both home and away, whilst they went on to finish second in the so called Group of Death, which featured Besiktas, Dynamo Kiev and Maccabi Tel-Aviv.
Unfortunately, but somewhat understandably, the run came to an end in the picturesque Spanish City of Valencia. Even there though, Pulis felt a little hard done by not to have added their name to his hit-list, having seen several golden opportunities go begging during the memorable encounter.
Balancing a European campaign with domestic demands was always a worry for Pulis, and whilst the form of the side did tail off towards the end, he still managed to lead the Club to an extremely respectable 14th place finish, just two points adrift of a first ever top-ten Premier League spot.
So far this season, Pulis has added more creativity and craft to his team in the likes of Michael Owen, Charlie Adam, Michael Kightly and Steven Nzonzi, whilst he displayed his willingness to work ‘the foreign market’ by completing what appears to have been one of the signings of the season in Geoff Cameron from MLS side Houston Dynamo.
Their arrivals have undoubtedly bolstered the City squad, and the fact that the side have already taken points off Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool during the opening two months of the campaign, as well as putting up brave showings at Chelsea and Manchester United, signals that there is still plenty more mileage left in the Tony Pulis era.
Here’s to ten more years of TP!
To celebrate the ten-year anniversary of Pulis’ initial appointment we have trawled through the archives here at the Britannia Stadium to bring you some of the most memorable moments of his regime.
We have the first ever interview he gave to us upon being announced as Steve Cotterill’s successor back in 2002, we have spoken to Chairman Peter Coates to get his thoughts on the Welshman, whilst we have dug out the most iconic snaps of arguably the Club’s greatest manager for a ‘TP Photo Special’.
If that’s not enough, then we also have an in-depth timeline highlighting all of the major events which have occurred during his 432 games in charge thus far.
To show your thanks to Pulis for the job he has done at the Britannia Stadium then simply send your message to us on twitter (@stokecity), adding the hashtag - #ThankYouTony - at the end of your tweet.