If last Saturday’s FA Cup clash between Tony Pulis’s West Bromwich Albion and Sam Allardyce’s West Ham United represented a ‘set to’ between two of the more traditional managers in the British game, the 4-0 result was a pretty clear victory for the Welshman. Allardyce, ironically born in Dudley, a few miles deeper into the Black Country from the Hawthorns, was left well beaten, and with the rancour of fans that had travelled from the East End to West Bromwich bemoaning his team’s display. For Allardyce, it must have been a frustrating experience. His club sit in a comfortable and probably over-performing eighth place in the league, having even flirted with the prospect of a European dalliance for the next season. Shorn of talismanic striker Andy Carroll however, a defeat to Pulis’s newly-invigorated Baggies is no disgrace. Two things were clear from the game. Firstly, fans have short memories, and secondly, Tony Pulis certainly knows how to organise a team.
After lifting Stoke City from the Championship and setting them on a path to mid-table security, Pulis was eventually dismissed when his style was not deemed appropriate any more for the exalted expectations that the Potteries club seemed to aspire to. Stoke now lie tenth in the league, and it’s difficult to believe convincingly that the influence of new manager Mark Hughes has taken them much further than they would have been had Pulis remained in the Brittania’s hot seat.
After leaving the north Midlands, Crystal Palace were astute enough to identify Pulis as the ideal man to take over from the erratic Ian Holloway after the manager lost his way in the heat of Premier League competition, and a rapid return with relegation to the Championship seemed on the cards. with minimal cash outlay however, Pulis quickly transformed the club’s fortunes. A team that was averaging slightly over one goal every two games before his arrival, were netting better than a goal per game during his tenure. He also made a major difference at the other end of the field. Improving from leaking almost two goals per game under Holloway Palace were suddenly, conceding a mite over one. The improvement resulted in the club’s win percentage increasing from less than one in ten to better than one in four, and mid-table safety by the end of the season; well away from any relegation scrap.
Remarkably however, and the details are still only sketchy, Palace decided to let Pulis walk away in the summer. It was a decision many fans would have found difficult to understand, and for Palace supporters, just when a brighter dawn appeared to be on the horizon, Pulis was gone, to be replaced by Neil Warnock. This season, down at Selhurst, if Warnock is Hollloway, the boisterous fans will be hoping that Pardew is Pulis.
The genuine article has however landed at the Hawthorns, and in typical fashion has rescued a season that seemed to be running into disarray under Alan Irvine. The stats since he took up the reins show that whilst he has more than doubled the Baggies’ goals to game ratio, he has better than halved the rate at which they were conceding. With a win percentage up from just under 23% to better than 63%, and a quarter-final of the FA Cup on the horizon, Pulis is proving yet again that he has the nous to put a team on the right rails.
The question therefore has to be asked as to why, with such a record behind him, he has yet to be offered a ‘big job’ in the Premier League. In recent years, positions at Manchester United, Chelsea, Everton and Spurs, to name but as few, have all become available without Pulis ever getting a mention, never mind any serious consideration. Is it the ubiquitous baseball cap, the enthusiastic p[acing in the technical area or the old school approach that precludes any such approaches for his services at the sharp end of the game where the silverware normally lands? Perhaps it’s a combination of all three, and then that he carries little of the panache of a spectacular appointment.
In time however, it may be that the long-term value of Tony Pulis will be recognised. Whether that is at West Bromwich or somewhere else is yet to be decided. Having just passed his 57th birthday however, if a ‘big job’ is coming, it will need to arrive quickly. Back at the Hawthorns already, if the early days of his tenure are anything to go by, Baggies fans will be hoping that the situation stays just as it is. Pulis could take the Midlands club to Wembley, and who knows, in this season of cup upsets, picking up the old pot at Wembley, would be a nice way to cock a snook at supposedly bigger clubs. How’s that for old school.
(This All Blue Daze article was originally produced for ‘theaspirer’ website).