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Pulis aiming for European return for Stoke

Tony Pulis wants another Europa League adventure with Stoke City and believes qualification is a realistic target for the club this season.

• Blog: Stoke back to their best

The Stoke City manager has been heartened by the first half of the season with Stoke sitting eighth in the Premier League and he wants to push for a top-five finish.

After claiming 28 points over the first 19 games, Pulis knows his side will have to improve again in the New Year if they are to reach the target and record their best ever top-flight finish.

Stoke will look to extend a nine-game unbeaten run going into Saturday's meeting with Southampton and they will be a match for most teams in the FA Cup, which offers another route into Europe.

Pulis warned regularly against the difficulties of trying to juggle a league campaign while competing in the Europa League and also about the Premier League fixture schedule after long Thursday night away trips in Europe, but he is determined to drive the club forward again.

"It's something we should aim for and I'm sure players and fans alike would relish the challenge if we ever got there again," he said.

"That's not to overlook how tough it was with the number and timing of the games and how that affected our league form.

"It takes a lot to get used to games coming thick and fast on a Thursday and then a Sunday, not to mention the fact they kindly gave us away games in the league after virtually every away game in Europe and they were long trips.

"But having the odds against us is what gets us going as a club, and that includes our fans."

Pulis has warned his players that Southampton will be a tougher game than the 3-1 win over Liverpool on Boxing Day because of the raised expectations.

"Southampton are giving it a good go and they will be a big challenge for us, especially if we are not up for the game," he said.

"The other night was tremendous for everyone, and the players deserved their praise for the wonderful effort they put in, especially after losing a goal so early in the match.

"But that is gone and now we have to raise ourselves for another challenge. That is why we need our fans to be with us once more and just as noisy as the other night."

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