TONY PULIS has urged his players to "enjoy the challenge" as Stoke City enter a crucial six-game run-in to the end of the season by facing Manchester United on Sunday.
Pulis' side will endeavour to end a barren run of results in the toughest of circumstances when they take on Sir Alex Ferguson's champions-elect, knowing that they need points on the board to pull themselves clear of the relegation battle which they are now caught up in.
The live televised clash is one of three home games remaining, while they also face visits to Queens Park Rangers, Sunderland and Southampton over the next five weeks.
"It's a challenge we should embrace, a challenge the players should enjoy because we have not been here before in our time in the Premier League," commented Pulis.
"We have six games and 18 points to play for, and we need another six points. So, the most important thing then is for the players to look at it in a positive way.
"It's in times of adversity that you need to show strength of character and rise to the challenge, which is hopefully what the players will do over the next six games."
He added: "I certainly looking forward to the challenge. The important thing for me is to stay level, stay focused and try to take the pressure off the players."
Pulis is philosophical about the situation which City find themselves in after a disappointing sequence of results which has produced one win in 13 matches.
"You have to accept in life that there are going to be good times, there are going to be bad times," he said during his pre-match press conference for the United game.
"We've had seven unbelievable years at this Football Club, yet if we had finished three of the last four seasons needing to win the final game to stay up, expectations wouldn't be as high as they are and people would be doing somersaults if we avoided relegation.
"We played in Europe against clubs like Valencia, Dynamo Kiev and Besiktas in games people could never have dreamed of seven years ago. We also been to Wembley twice and played in four cup quarter finals, so it's all been really, really good stuff.
"I'm not silly enough to understand the nature of the world and society today, indeed the nature of football too, where you get no graces for what you've done. People will respond to what you're doing, and what we've done is not what we're used to."
Pulis is relishing the prospect of his side taking on runaway leaders Manchester United, even though it will undoubtedly be the toughest of challenges, especially with Ferguson's side looking to bounce back from their derby defeat to Manchester City.
"This is one of the reasons why everyone gets so excited about playing in the Premier League," he commented ahead of Sunday's live televised match.
"To pit your wits against Sir Alex and to play against Manchester United is just fantastic for this Football Club. We've given them good games here in recent seasons; last year was a tough one in which we got a good draw out of it.
"The good thing about Sunday is that everyone knows that it's all hand to the pumps. This is when we need our supporters the most and I'm expecting the atmosphere in the ground to be absolutely fantastic because the fans will be up for this one."