TONY PULIS today highlighted the "huge importance" of the current Barclays Premier League campaign to Stoke City . . . and then insisted that none of the Club's key players would be going anywhere in the January transfer window.
Pulis was responding to recent speculation surrounding some of the influential performers behind a recent run of four victories and a draw in the last five matches which has lifted them to a healthy ninth position in the Premier League table.
That success has been built on a solid base with the likes of Ryan Shawcross, Robert Huth and Asmir Begovic making eye-catching contributions to the best defensive record in the top-flight, most notably seven clean sheets in 15 games.
City will be aiming to extend that run when they return to the West Midlands on Saturday, scene of their 1-0 win at West Brom last weekend.
"This is a massive year in terms of staying in the Premier League because the rewards at the end of it will be enormous, and this Football Club recognises that," commented Pulis at his pre-match press conference ahead of the Aston Villa trip.
"If there's interest in some of our players, then that can only be a good thing. It shows that we are doing well and those players are performing well.
"If a big a club comes in for one of our players, it is difficult to say 'no, we are not going to do it' if the deal is right. But there will be no sale of our big players in the January window because this is without question our biggest season in the Premier League.
"Even if there was an offer or interest, and there isn't at the moment, we are making it clear now that it will have to wait until the end of the season.
"We must not do anything that may in any way affect our chances of staying in the Premier League. The financial stakes are too high to do that."
He added: "Things have been going well for us recently, but there is still an awful long way to go to get to our initial 40 point target. That is our first objective at the start of every season and we must stay focused on that as a group."
City will have their excellent defensive record put to the test on Saturday by a Villa side which has enjoyed an upturn in fortunes recently.
But Pulis insisted that it was not just down to Shawcross, Huth and Begovic that they have proved to be so difficult to break down this season.
"I am sure they would be the first players to acknowledge the work of others around them in contributing to that record," said City's manager.
"We set ourselves up to be very tight as a unit and while everyone is talking about Ryan, Robert and Asmir, the performances of those around them have been impressive too, especially when you consider we've had to make changes to both full backs."