TONY PULIS will happily welcome back part of Stoke City's 'missing link' for the crucial game against Norwich City on Saturday . . . and believes it could yet be a major factor in them getting to the all-important 40-point mark.
Pulis expects injury-hit winger Matthew Etherington to have recovered sufficiently from a back problem to feature in some way in the meeting with the Canaries at the Britannia Stadium, even if it is not right from the start of the game.
City's manager believes that Etherington's fitness troubles and the prolonged absence of Marc Wilson has been a major factor in the Club's struggle since the turn of the year which has put their Premier League future in some doubt.
"Even I was amazed when someone worked out this week that Matty and Marc have only played together for 149 minutes in the Premier League this season," he commented in looking ahead to the visit of Chris Hughton's side this weekend.
"The left hand side has been our strongest side in recent seasons and it has created much of our threat in home matches in particular.
"It has been a massive miss for us that they have only linked up together for a short amount of time due to their injury problems, and that has undoubtedly been a factor in the run of results which we've had over the past few months."
He added: "They are both top, top performers and left sided attacking players of Matty's quality are like gold-dust, so it hasn't helped us."
Pulis recognises that City may well need Etherington at his best if they are to break down Norwich's resistance in their latest home match.
"Norwich have a very, very good defence which will be difficult to break down, so we know that we will have to be patient," said City's boss.
"It was an excellent win at Queens Park Rangers, a result which I felt had been coming for some time, and we want to build on that now.
"The feeling after the win at Loftus Road was very much that we had finally got what we deserved out a game. We had been going into matches with the confidence and belief, but hadn't been coming out of them with it because of results.
"It's the results that are the key because performances have certainly not been as bad as some people have made them out to be, and on a number of occasions, we have either shot ourselves in the foot or have not got what we deserved."
He added: "We want to get to 40 points as soon as we can and I am sure that will put a lot more smiles on people's faces after last week's win.
"To get to 40 points has been the target since the start of the season and I am sure that if we get there, we will be a Premier League club next season. Our goal difference is good compared to others around us, so that is effectively an extra point."