TONY PULIS admitted his team were second-best against Manchester City on New Year's Day... after the Potters were beaten 3-0 by the Premier League champions at the Etihad Stadium.
City stood up to the challenge well until three minutes before half-time, when full-back Pablo Zabaleta pounced to give the Citizens the lead.
Further goals from Edin Dzeko and a Sergio Aguero penalty sent the home side well on their way to what Pulis believes was a deserved victory after admitting his team didn't perform to their maximum.
"We can have no complaints, they were the better team," said Pulis after the final whistle.
"For us to come here and have a chance, we have to bring our A-game and you have to hope Manchester City have an off day. That wasn't the case today.
"Sometimes you have to open your eyes a little bit to the reality of everything. They've got a bit of a head start on clubs like us. They've got some fantastic players - world class players all over the pitch."
The Stoke City manager was keen not to run his players down too much, and emphasised the significance of the ten-game unbeaten run in the Premier League that the defeat brought to an end.
"It's our fourth game in the holiday period, and we didn't bring our A game today but I'm not going to criticise the players," he added.
"Sometimes you're not going to be on it - they've been absolutely fantastic for our football club. We've gone ten unbeaten, which is fantastic in itself.
"Don't take anything away from City though, they played well today. They're a good team and were better than us."
Pulis fielded an attacking line-up, with Kenwyne Jones, Cameron Jerome, Jonathan Walters and Charlie Adam all starting, and says it was his intention to take the game to the champions.
"We wanted to have a go today. I played with three strikers - Jon, Cameron and Kenwyne, and they've all been scoring goals.
"I left the wingers out and played Charlie in behind them, so we had four forward-thinking players.
"It's as much an attacking team that I've put out away from home against one of the biggest clubs in the league, but the disappointing thing is that we didn't get the chances."
With the January transfer window now open, he admits that a couple of new signings could give the Club a further lift heading into the second half of the campaign.
"We'd like to do some business, but the important thing is that we have to wheel and deal as well.
"I think the squad needs a little bit of fresh blood, but we have to generate it. We can't just go out and spend lots of money."