Some towns and cities just seem to suit their football clubs and those that play for them. When you think of the continental sophistication of, say, Milan, you immediately think of somebody like the debonair Paolo Maldini and the classy teams the Rossoneri have produced over the years.
Similarly, when you imagine Barcelona, you think of the stylish Pep Guardiola, and how he is the embodiment of a metropolitan, cultural city.
And when you think of Stoke, you think of Tony Pulis and his baseball cap.
Here’s the thing: Pulis, that ridiculous hat and his ‘football philosophy’ (that term is looser than Imogen Thomas) really do sum up an entire town, where people are rough and ready, aggressive, moustached and excessively tattooed. The men are even worse.
If the football Pulis gets the Potters to play wasn’t bad enough – he makes Dave Bassett look like Marcelo Bielsa – the baseball cap just sums it all up. Has anybody actually asked him why he wears it? Is it because his team spends so much time kicking the ball in the air that he needs to keep the sun out of his eyes?
Not that it is often that sunny in Stoke. Have you ever been to Stoke? Deary me. I went there once and it was so relentlessly bleak it’s the type of place that should be soundtracked by Leonard Cohen.
I got a train there that was due to arrive at 19.57, and when I arrived and stepped off the station platform I thought that was the year I’d been transported back to.
I’m not saying it was rough, but when I got there the town centre was so intimidating that when I went into one of the local ale houses to do the pub quiz the first question was “what the **** are you looking at?”
But if you’re looking to turn a negative into a positive, all of this works in Stoke’s favour when it comes to football – if you call having a pretty good home record for a lower-mid table side a positive, which, for the sake of the next £10 to £10k bet, it most certainly is.
Actually I take that back about Stoke, that was a bit harsh. They actually have a very good home record, and after getting Bet 3 up at the weekend – there were over 1.5 goals in the Manchester United v QPR match – the pot is up to £14.42 and it is all eyes on the Britannia, where Stoke host out-of form Newcastle United, who are yet to win on the road this term.
Alan Pardew is a man who looks unhappy with his lot and it is no surprise as things have gone pear-shaped for him. Pardew always used to be able to rely on strong performances when playing away from home, where he’s enjoyed many an impressive conquest. A fan of two big ones upfront, he’s always been a keen advocate of getting stuck in, confident that the next result will be coming soon, and he’s now wondering where it’s all gone wrong.
Newcastle have fallen to bits this season and it says a lot about the decline of the Toon that I don’t fancy them to get much out of Stoke on Wednesday, although if I was them I’d just want to get out of Stoke on Wednesday.
Stoke hardly ever score, and with Newcastle looking out of sorts I really can’t see this being full of goals and the 3/25 there are under 2.5 goals in the second half of the clash looks good to me.
The Potters are even more ultra-defensive than normal this year and have let in just 11 goals in 13 games, a record that only Manchester City can better. It’s a brilliant statistic, and certainly helps when you’ve only scored 11 all season at the other end.
In the six matches at the Britannia, there have only been six goals – five for Stoke, one for Manchester City – and it has extended the Potters’ unbeaten home run to 13 games, during which they have let in just seven goals, keeping seven clean sheets.
Only two of those matches have featured more than two goals, and I think it is a pretty safe bet that the second period of Newcastle’s trip doesn’t produce three. In fact, only once in Stoke’s last 38 matches have there been more than two goals in the second half – last month’s 4-2 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford.
So Stoke have gone a whole season with just one game that has seen over 2.5 goals in the second half, and I really don’t think given the way Stoke are playing at home that the match against Newcastle is going to be any different. So let’s get on that 3/25, and hope that we can get the winnings up to £16.15.