Season shape-up - Stoke
Stoke surpassed all expectations to steer clear of relegation trouble last season but they will have to spend big again this summer to avoid the dreaded 'second season syndrome'. Here Mark Holmes takes a look at where Tony Pulis needs to strengthen to establish the Potters in the Premier League. What's happened so farStoke chairman Peter Coates has admitted the club made mistakes in the transfer market last summer and they have started work early this time around to avoid a repeat. The Potters' scouting team were working overtime well before the season finished and Pulis has been racking up his air miles for six weeks checking on a number of overseas targets. The Welshman has been given another healthy transfer budget to work with and he has stressed the importance of getting key deals done early, before the players return for pre-season training on July 9. Pulis' first action of the summer was to release Vincent Pericard and he has promised there will be a host more fringe players following the striker out of the Britannia exit door. Salif Diao has been offered a new contract but looks likely to move on, while club captain Andy Griffin and record signing Dave Kitson are set to be among the higher-profile players leaving. First-team regulars Thomas Sorensen, Ryan Shawcross, Abdoulaye Faye, Danny Higginbotham Liam Lawrence have all tentatively been linked with moves away at some point but Pulis should keep hold of all his key players and focus on bringing in new blood. Little has happened so far but an offer has reportedly been made for Djibril Cisse and the club have been in contact with Liverpool and Manchester United regarding fringe players they may allow to leave this summer. Pulis is also keen on a number of Middlesbrough's stars, namely Gary O'Neil and Robert Huth, but he has not yet got around to lodging bids for any as he puts the finishing touches to his list of 'A' targets. The other news coming from the club this summer is that they will not start work on extending the stadium for at least another 12 months, despite supporters snapping up a record amount of season tickets. Stoke finished a superb 11 points above the bottom three last season but that certainly does not mean they can rest on their laurels. Their Premier League rivals will know what to expect at the Britannia Stadium second time around and Pulis simply must improve the quality in his squad if his side are to prosper again. He has spoken of the need to sign players with "the same DNA" as his current stars and will be mindful of changing a style of play that proved so effective last term. However he will also be aware he must blend hard work and physicality with more pace and skill. The goalkeeper, two centre-halves and two forwards have proved themselves to be solid top-flight players but Stoke need better ball-players in the full-back positions and competition for Matthew Etherington and Liam Lawrence on the wings. It is also absolutely imperative they spend big on some class in the centre of the park as none of their current incumbents would get into a top-half side. Glenn Whelan shone in the second half of last season and will continue to improve with age but Pulis needs to find a box-to-box player that can pass, shoot and tackle. They don't come cheap but the right one could be the difference between a relegation scrap and a tilt at the top 10. Another forward to challenge Fuller and James Beattie is also needed, while Pulis needs to swap ageing and steady substitutes for younger, more exciting ones capable of changing games. The Potters' bench was hardly dynamic last season and they need replacements that can break down sides hanging on for draws at the Britannia. Stoke are likely to bring in six or seven new players ahead of the new season and Cisse could well be among the first if the former Liverpool man can be persuaded to commit his long-term future to the club. Pulis may well sign a striker from overseas if he fails to land the France international, although he will keep a close eye on the availability of Peter Crouch if Portsmouth's takeover does not go ahead. The Potters are also likely to look abroad for midfield reinforcements but O'Neil remains a possibility as does Cardiff's Joe Ledley, although the Wales star would not be an automatic first choice. Juan Arango is the pick of the overseas midfielders to be linked with a move after Pulis was spotted at Real Mallorca's end-of-season game against Barcelona. Jermaine Pennant is a potential English-based target to fill a wide berth and the 26-year-old may be keen on a move to the Britannia now Stoke are able to match his Liverpool wages. Pulis is keen to increase his options at centre-half with Leon Cort and Ibrahima Sonko likely to leave, and Huth could arrive if a bigger side does not come in with a bid for the German. Stoke are likely to use the loan market again and there are a number of youngsters at United and Liverpool that could interest Pulis, with the likes of Manucho, Zoran Tosic, Nabil El Zhar and David Ngog potentially available. Fan's view - John Paterson Well, we survived. Thanks to wonderful team spirit a stunning home record and the dismal form of the bottom three, we ended 11 points above the relegation zone! The biggest surprise for me was the number of our Championship players who made the step up. Survival for a second season will be a good achievement but that shouldn't stop us trying to improve upon last season's magnificent 12th place. When fully fit we have a competitive team but our bench has, at times, looked woefully thin and new blood is needed. I'd expect some or all of Cresswell, Diao, Tonge, Griffin, Cort, Davies, Soares and maybe Olofinjana to leave - possibly some of them in part exchange for new players if we bring in any from the Championship. I'm not going to name incoming players I'd like to see - mainly because the best players Pulis brings in are usually the ones I don't expect! I hope we can add at least one attacking fullback to the squad. We really are lacking in that area and it is an important position. One and possibly two central midfielders are needed and both should be capable of that 'defence splitting' pass. One new winger is needed to provide competition for places - possibly a right winger as Lawrence can cover the left if needs be. Given that Mama is probably out until Christmas, we need two strikers to provide competition for places and to give us a plan B and C if plan A fails to work. I expect that Tony will exploit the loan market and possibly one of the strikers and one of the midfielders may be young loan players. If we survive our second Premiership season (even better if we again settle in mid table) then this club can look forward to a long stay in the top flight - but to do this we must develop a winning mentality away from home and that means developing a variety of options in attack and defence.
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