Okay, maybe Andre Villas-Boas and David Moyes were right – Stoke City just might be contenders for the European places after all.
The managers of Tottenham and Everton suggested as much over recent weeks, but is it such a fanciful notion as I initially thought?
Unbeaten in nine league games and riding high in eighth position in the Premier League, these are great times to be a Stoke fan.
With the Potters riding so high, I don’t think this is a good moment to be churlish and sound like a cut-price Brendan Rodgers (imagine that) talking about style of play and ‘philosophy’, other than to say the direct and robust nature of Stoke’s approach is not exactly to my liking, nor many others if the truth be told.
But there is no doubting that it is effective and as Stoke look down the league table and see Liverpool, Newcastle United and Sunderland below them, the Potters will not care one iota what others think of them.
Tony Pulis certainly doesn’t and why should he? He has the old Wimbledon ‘Crazy Gang’ mentality of ‘nobody likes us and we don’t care’ and criticism of his team’s style goes in one ear and out of the other for Pulis.
That isn’t to say there aren’t things to admire about Stoke’s play. If you are going to make yourself so hard to beat, then the fundamentals have to be right and there isn’t a team that work harder and give more to the cause than City.
Their organisation is second to none: to have played 19 games and only conceded 14 goals is a formidable record and no one in the Premier League can beat it.
In fact, few teams can beat Stoke full-stop – only Everton and Manchester City have lost fewer games, which is incredible when you consider that Stoke have scored just 18 goals this season.
And can anybody really see Stoke doing anything other than beating Southampton when the two sides meet at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday?
I think this is a home banker all day long. You can get 3/4 with bwin on a Potters win and that is a price you should be guzzling up, while swerving the 12/5 on the draw and the 4/1 on an away victory.
Southampton are out of the relegation places by just a point and a solitary place, and manager Nigel Adkins would be delighted if that was the case come May.
Just eight weeks ago it seemed like survival would be a pipe dream, with Saints conceding goals at an alarming rate and losing nearly every week, but a few results have lifted the south-coast club out of the drop zone and they are in with a fighting chance of staying up.
But you cannot see them competing with Stoke at the Britannia, where the Potters remain formidable. Their dominance over Liverpool in Boxing Day’s 3-1 win was impressive and I don’t think a Saints side that has lost six of its eight away trips, winning just four points, will be able to cope with the bombardment they will face.
That bombardment is predictable, but knowing about it and doing something about it are two different things and there is nothing in Saints’ record that gives you any hope.
Only Aston Villa and Reading have let in more goals this season, while only the Villans and Fulham have conceded more on the road.
I don’t see them getting any change when they face a Stoke side who haven’t lost in nine and are unbeaten at home all season, conceding just four goals.
It looks a home win all ends up for me and I would say get on that 3/4, and then get on again.