Woodgate could face Hajduk

28 July 2011 08:41
The latest chapter in Jonathan Woodgate's career could begin on Thursday night when Stoke play their first European match in 37 years.

Potters boss Tony Pulis is weighing up whether to throw his lone summer signing into the fray when Croatian giants Hajduk Split visit the Britannia Stadium for the first leg of the Europa League third qualifying round tie.

Woodgate left Tottenham this summer after a three-and-a-half-year spell that began very promisingly but headed rapidly downhill when the central defender succumbed to a groin injury in November 2009.

He has played only one first-team game since, as a substitute in Spurs' Champions League victory over AC Milan in February, before a hip problem curtailed his comeback.

The 31-year-old has been battling to regain full fitness following his move to Stoke, but he played an hour of a pre-season friendly against Aldershot at the weekend and Pulis has been impressed by the former England man.

"He's been first class," said Pulis. "Whether we take a chance and play him, we'll have to wait and see, but he's close. He's trained, he's played half a game so it will be big decision for me.

"Obviously we have to tread carefully and get him to a level of fitness where he can get through the games and then we can manage him during the week."

Woodgate's desire to re-establish himself in the Premier League led him to sign a pay-as-you-play deal with Stoke, having previously turned down a similar agreement at White Hart Lane.

Pulis is hoping it will prove a win-win arrangement, and said: "The way we've structured Jonathan's contract is beneficial to both. If he plays in the team then he'll be on the wages the rest of them are earning, and if he doesn't then he won't.

"But Jonathan took that gamble, we managed to persuade him to do that, and I think it's fantastic. He's a good player, he's a good lad, and he's really settled in.

"I think he's been pleasantly surprised by the way he's been received and how good the club is in lots of ways."

This is Stoke's third foray into Europe and their first since the 1974-75 season. Their record of never having won a tie is in stark contrast to their opponents tonight, who are three-time European Cup quarter-finalists.

Hajduk are certainly a familiar club to Stoke keeper Asmir Begovic, who was born across the border in Bosnia before his family fled the Balkan war and moved on to Germany and then Canada.

The 24-year-old said: "Hajduk Split's a good club. It's not far from where I was born so I've got a bit of history and some roots there.

"I don't remember too much because we moved away when I was very young but it will be nice to go back there for football reasons this time. They're a great side, they're very difficult to beat in Europe, so we know we have a big game on our hands."

Source: Team_Talk