Going into the Premier League run in you are well placed to secure another top half finish, what is your aim for the rest of the season?
The aim is to get as many points as we possibly can. We set a certain target every year and we are still short of that, but we have twelve games to go so it’s important that the players stay focused now because we’ve got a tough game at Fulham in a couple of weeks.
Our away form, again, hasn’t been spectacular and we’ve relied on our home results, but that’s always the case as it’s very difficult to win away from home in the Barclays Premier League. We’re aiming for as many points as we can and it would be lovely to finish higher than we have before, but the most important thing is to get to that target we set.
What points target do you set at the start of the season?
Everybody says that if you can get 40 points then that’s good, there haven’t been many teams who have got relegated with 40 points. The safety valve really is the 40 point mark and if you can get there as quickly as possible then it really does take the pressure off.
In many respects, this year has been an especially pressured season because you just do not want to miss out on that enormous windfall, and for me especially because I have such a great relationship with the Coates family, Peter, John and Denise who have put so much money into the football club. They are wonderful people who have done a wonderful job for the people of Stoke-on-Trent, so there has been some added pressure to make sure we get over the line.
You are in your fifth season in the top flight, how much of a compliment is it that your achievements do not surprise people anymore?
It’s a massive compliment to everybody at the football club. It isn’t just the football team, it’s the investment in the training facilities, the infrastructure back at The Britannia and all the way through the football club. Our academy is a Category A facility and that is a hugely important aspect that we have to continue to improve on over the next three or four years.
There is still lots and lots of work to be done but we are pleased that teams and people don’t think that we are going to get relegated anymore. However, we remain very wary that you can fall flat on your face in this game. You have to stay on the front foot and you have to keep pushing forward.
Has your team’s style changed in recent seasons?
Yes, I think we’ve grown in terms of the quality of player that we have brought into the team – we don’t have as many rough edges now. We still try and play through the pitch as quickly as we can and we still try and back it up as quickly as we can - that will never change. We have a certain identity, we’ve tried to sign players who fit that identity and we mustn’t get away from that because it is an approach that has taken us so far and can take us even further.
Now long throw specialist Rory Delap has left the club do you still intend to use the tactic and do you have a successor?
It is a weapon and there’s nothing wrong with it, it’s not breaking any rules or regulations within football. Rory was a good player as well and you don’t play 400 games in the Premiership if you’re not up to it.
Ryan Shotton, who has come into the team, has got a decent long throw and if we found a player out there again who threw it as far as Rory did, and we could be as effective as we were when Rory was in the group, we certainly would use it. As I’ve said, we’re not breaking laws and rules by doing it.
You received praise for the corner routine that you worked against West Ham earlier in the season, how much time do you spend on specific set piece routines and how pleasing is it when they work?
They’re very pleasing and we scored again this weekend from a corner kick. If you watch football in general, and analyse how many goals are scored off set plays, people would realise how important it is. As a team we do spend quite a bit of time working on routines that we think will help us score goals. We also work very hard defensively as well because we know other clubs will use it too – it’s an important part of the game.
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