Back we go in our time machine to this day 12 years ago as we continue our unapologetic re-run of the run-in to the 2007/08 Stoke City promotion season.
Stoke had just drawn at Watford and were preparing for a home match against Blackpool, with seven games remaining as they tried to end a 23-year exile from top flight football.
There would be twists and turns ahead – and nerves. A lot of nerves.
March 19, 2008: Tunnel Vision
Stoke City’s title-chasing players are being urged to cock a deaf ear to the pundits and turn a blind eye to the press in the closing weeks of their potentially historic campaign.
City boss Tony Pulis is anxious for his players to adopt tunnel vision so they avoid any outside distractions during the final six-and-a-half weeks of the season.
And he has warned them to ignore those praising them to the skies – and those writing them off
“I’m not telling them to stop reading papers or to switch off the TV whenever Stoke is mentioned,” he said, “but there is a simple message to them.
“I simply want them to concentrate on the task in hand and not get carried away by lavish hype on the one hand and grave predictions on the other.
“It’s easy to get wrapped up in listening to so-called experts not only predicting results of games, but also predicting who will be champions, who will be second and who will finish in the play-offs
“If football was that easy to predict, we’d all be sat on an exotic island by now after winning the pools. The fact is there will still be many twists and turns to come – and we have to be big enough to handle them.”
He insisted every member of his squad was on red alert for the part they could yet play in trying to steer the current Championship leaders home.
“Everyone has a job to do and must stay focused to ensure they play their part when called upon,” he said.
“Whether it be a player putting in a 90-minute man-of-the-match performance, or someone coming on in the last five minutes to see the team home, they are all as important as each other.”
Pulis reported no imminent breakthrough in his efforts to recruit a replacement for Ricardo Fuller in time for Saturday’s visit of Blackpool.
Fuller begins a two-match ban this weekend to leave him idle for over three weeks before he is eligible for Crystal Palace’s visit on Monday, April 7.
Gabriel Zakuani was hoping to throw his name back into the ring by turning out for Stoke reserves today to prove his return to fitness after a broken toe.
Ryan Shawcross recalled by England
STOKE centre-half Ryan Shawcross has been called up for a second time to the England under-21 squad to face Poland at Molineux on March 25.
The 20-year-old was previously involved with the squad for the Euro qualifier against Ireland on February 5, but did not take to the field in the 3-0 win at Southampton’s St Mary’s ground.
Shawcross will be competing against fellow defenders Scott Dann and Daniel Fox (Coventry), Craig Gardner (Aston ViIla), Joe Mattock (Leicester City) and Nedum Onuoha (Manchester City) for a place in Stuart Pearce’s starting line-up.
Shawcross was named ‘Powerade’ Player of the Month for October and has been in fine form since making his loan deal from Manchester United permanent.
The Chester-born ace represented Welsh schools earlier in his career, but only because he was a pupil across the border.
Full squad: Joe Hart (Man City), Tom Heaton (Man United), Scott Dann (Coventry), Daniel Fox (Coventry), Craig Gardner (Aston Villa), Michael Mancienne (Chelsea), Joe Mattock (Leicester), Nedum Onuoha (Manchester), Ryan Shawcross (Stoke), Lee Cattermole (Middlesbrough), Adam Johnson (Middlesbrough), Michael Johnson (Man City), Grant Leadbitter (Sunderland), Jamie O’Hara (Tottenham), Andrew Surman (Southampton), Fraizer Campbell (Man United), Matt Derbyshire (Blackburn), Cameron Jerome (Birmingham), Ishmael Miller (West Brom), Luke Moore (Aston Villa).