Pulis: Criticise me, not the players
Tony Pulis is prepared to keep taking the flak from Stoke City fans - to help protect his players.
Pulis still cannot comprehend the levels of anger among the club's fan base and feels supporters need a reality check, but if they are determined to keep voicing their displeasure - the Stoke manager wants them to lay off his players.
Stoke were booed off following defeat against West Ham United at the Britannia Stadium last weekend and a growing number of fans want Pulis to be removed as manager by chairman Peter Coates.
Coates has backed his manager and has also appealed to fans to channel their energies into backing the team, but Pulis wants to be a focus of the anger, rather than the players if supporters continue to demonstrate.
"If they're going to criticise, I'd rather they criticised me. I'm on the bench. You can't affect the game that much, and you need the players to be playing with confidence and freedom," said Pulis. "Those players don't deserve criticism. They've been absolutely fantastic for this football club. If there's a gripe, have it with the manager - leave the players alone.
Pulis accepts that confidence levels have dropped among his players ahead of Sunday's trip to Newcastle United, when they will try to improve a poor record of just one away win in their last 23 games, but fans moaning at the players will only make the situation worse.
"If they go out there feeling the supporters are behind them, it's a lot easier than thinking the supporters are just waiting for a moment to criticise," he added. "We need to instil that little bit of strength and steel into the players without a question of a doubt.
"When you go on a run of games when you're not winning, you always get a dip in confidence but you have to accept that. You have good times and you have bad times. Football is a reflection of life and it ebbs and flows. You have periods where you think you can rule the world and the next day it feels like everything's on top of you."
Pulis has a great relationship with Stoke chairman Peter Coates, whose family own the club, and his position is not under threat, but he is feeling the heat from a section of fans who are unhappy with the style of play.
"If I was a younger manager and I'd spent the first six or seven years at this football club and with what we've achieved, maybe I'd be looking over my shoulder and thinking, 'What's going on?' But I have been managing for a long time now and I know things change very quickly. The supporters of this football club will be supporters all their lives and you have to accept criticism," he said.
"If they pay their money, you have to accept they have the right to say what they think, whether you think it's right or wrong."