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May 12, 2014

Stoke's future is bright under Mark Hughes

This has been a truly memorable season for everyone connected with Stoke City -- one which justifies the decision to part company with Tony Pulis. The Crystal Palace manager has found a new lease of life in south London as well, so the idea to change direction has benefitted all parties.

Given what Pulis did for Stoke, many are happy that he is doing well and has given himself the opportunity of a visit to the Britannia next season which will be quite an occasion. As for the Mark Hughes, what he has achieved in his first season is beyond anyone’s wildest dreams and sets up what promises to be an exciting summer where a 15-goal-a-season striker will be top of his wish list.

When you think of the difference a powerful, fast front man could have made this season it really does whet the appetite for the next one which is something, at this time last year, fans didn’t think they would be able to say again.

The season ended with a fine win at West Brom -- a fifth victory in a row -- to deepen the gloom at the Hawthorns, with Pepe Mel parting ways with the club the next day. It was a dominant performance from Stoke and they have finished in ninth position, their highest in the Premier League. For that, manager Hughes deserves immense credit, with a new style of football introduced as well.

It was an exciting game on Sunday filled with anticipation; one which mirrored the season nicely -- a slow start followed by a promising period, then a disappointing one before ending it all with an almighty bang. Charlie Adam netted the winner and he has improved following a chastening spell at Liverpool; such progression would be down to Hughes as well as the player, it must be said.

Adam's goal saw the Potters move to a record-breaking 50 points and Newcastle’s failure to win saw them leapfrogged into 9th place which guarantees the owners 13.5 million pounds in prize money and over 79 million in total.

Unprecedented figures for an unprecedented Premier League campaign, one which saw a side that was an unrecognisable, exciting shadow of its former self. In seasons gone by, set piece goals were the staple of the side but these are down from 15 last season to 7 this term, with goals scored from open play up from 14 to 29.

In terms of the dreaded long ball, last season there were only four teams who utilised it more -- this season there are only six who used it less. I’m not sure many fans expected such a contrast in styles in such a short space of time and I imagine even fewer of those would anticipate finishing 9th having done so.