QPR boss reveals why his side must emulate Stoke
Premier League: Stoke City v QPR
Neil Warnock has made no secret of his admiration for Stoke City this season.
QPR travel to the Britannia Stadium on Saturday to face the club which Warnock says has become the blueprint for a promoted team seeking to establish themselves in the Premier League.
Since Tony Pulis and chairman Peter Coates took the Potters up from the Championship in 2007-08, they have finished 12th, 11th and 13th in the top flight, reached the FA Cup final in May and have become a Premier League side of genuine pedigree.
“You look at the teams in the Premier League and the ones that have established themselves have done fantastic really,” said Warnock. “I’ve never respected anybody more than I do him [Pulis] now. Stoke are not only a difficult to side to play against, but they’ve got good players. It’s easy to criticise them but a lot of clubs would like to repeat what they’ve done.”
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In previous years, that criticism emanated from Stoke’s relentlessly combative playing style, which ensured that visiting teams were more likely to emerge from the Britannia battered and bruised – and with a considerably lengthened injury list – than with a positive result.
But that same style of play also helped the club turn the Britannia into a true fortress. Their home form has been the bedrock of their three hugely successful campaigns in the top flight.
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This season, Coates and Pulis have sought to take City one step further. Playing on the European stage for the first time since the ‘70s thanks to last season’s FA Cup final appearance, Pulis strengthened his squad in the summer by splashing �20 million on Birmingham City’s Cameron Jerome, and Spurs pair Peter Crouch and Wilson Palacios.
Talk of a push for the top seven was under-pinned by a stirring start which produced two wins and two draws – including a mightily impressive 1-0 home success over Liverpool.
In recent weeks, however, twin challenges of Premier League and Europa League football have started to take their toll, with City picking up one point from their last six games. Since the win over Liverpool in September, Stoke have lost to Sunderland, Swansea, Arsenal, Newcastle and, in their last match, were hammered 5-0 at Bolton Wanderers.
That was an exact reversal of the scoreline when the two sides met in the FA Cup semi-final last season, and underlines the size of the challenge Pulis and Coates face in turning Stoke from a mid-table side to one capable of going one step further.
“We have become renowned for being resolute and hard to beat, so we are a group of lads who take defeats like that to heart,” said Stoke defender Danny Higginbotham.
Stoke’s response must come against QPR, and their biggest threat is likely to come from striker Jonathan Walters, who has scored five times so far and netted his first goal for Ireland in the 4-0 win over Estonia on Friday night.
Walters’ presence up front with either Crouch or Jerome is likely to give QPR’s rearguard a testing afternoon in what promises to be a familiarly tinderbox atmosphere.
Regardless of their recent poor form, Stoke are unlikely to be drawn into a relegation scrap this season, and can serve a reminder of just why Warnock admires them so much as they condemn Rangers to a 2-1 defeat.
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