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Feb 14, 2013

Etherington targets top-ten finish

Matthew Etherington wants reward for the progress Stoke have made since their return to the Premier League with a first ever top-ten finish.

• Blog: Give pace a chance

Tony Pulis' side has been steadily improved since they returned to the top flight in 2008 and they look set to secure a sixth successive season among the elite.

During that period Pulis has gradually overhauled the playing staff and the ambitions at the Britannia Stadium were underlined last month with the £3.5 million signing of England goalkeeper Jack Butland.

Etherington is one of the longer-serving members of Pulis' squad having moved to the club from West Ham United in 2009 and is approaching 150 appearances. Now the winger has set his sights on helping Stoke claim their first top-ten finish this season.

"It matters to us. We have always gone down to the last couple of games in tenth spot or just outside the top ten, but never finished there," he said.

"I remember the last game a couple of seasons ago against Wigan when a win, which we should have got, would have meant a top-half finish and we lost.

"That's how close we have been without doing it yet. I think we deserve it because of our consistency over the years. We are now on 33 points with 12 games left, so I'd like to think we could get to the 45 to 50-point mark. That should get us really close to the top ten."

Etherington suffered a slow start to this season and had to wait for a consistent run in the side, but has been back to his best form in recent weeks and now faces the new challenge of keeping Brek Shea out of the side.

Left-sided midfielder Shea has proved his fitness, following his arrival in January from FC Dallas, and has set his sights on forcing his way into Pulis' plans for next weekend's trip to Fulham.

"I feel I have been getting there in recent weeks," said Etherington, who has missed just one game since November 10. "I've got quite a few 90 minutes under my belt and I am feeling fitter and stronger than I have for a long time. On and off the field, I've never been happier."

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