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Horncastle: Torino in best form for decades

Serie A
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By ESPN Staff

Pulis protects players ahead of cruch Magpies clash

Stoke manager Tony Pulis has wrapped his team in cotton wool ahead of Saturday's "huge'' relegation battle against Newcastle.

Pulis has banned his players from speaking to the press and rested them up in preparation for a game which could all but secure their Barclays Premier League survival.

He said: "It's absolutely vital that our players concentrate 100% on the match and are kept away from any outside influences. I'm determined to guard them from all the media hype and everything else that's quite understandably connected with Newcastle and Alan Shearer.

"It's a massive, massive game for both clubs and all the rigmarole that is bound to come with Alan and Newcastle could be a distraction. They are an enormous club and the spotlight will be on them, but all we need to be concerned about is Stoke City.''

Pulis scoffed at suggestions his team are favourites for the game which, if Stoke win, would leave Newcastle in a perilous position.

He said: "We are the underdogs, there is no doubt about that in my eyes. I find it bizarre that a team like Newcastle are fighting a relegation battle at this stage of the season.

"They have got fantastic players all through the team and there is no way they should be in the position they are in. Joe Kinnear appeared to steady the ship a little bit and of course it was very unfortunate when he was taken ill again.

"But Alan's arrival will have galvanised everyone up there and I'm sure they will be absolutely desperate to beat us on Saturday. Everything seemed to be fragmented before he came in, but his presence alone will have brought the club and the supporters back together as one.

"The good thing for Stoke City is Alan Shearer will not be putting his boots on and lining up against us.''

Shearer was very complimentary towards Stoke, and Pulis in particular, during his time as a pundit on Match of the Day.

But Pulis said: "That was nice of him, but I don't tend to take much notice of what anyone on the outside says about me and our football club.

"There have been people in the press who have criticised us and had a go and I just shut myself off from it. The only thing that concerns me is Stoke City and our supporters.''

The Stoke players enjoyed the rarity of three days off after last Saturday's impressive victory at West Brom and only returned to full training today.

Pulis explained: "The players needed a breather and we also picked up one or two knocks and strains because of the harder pitches. It was an excellent performance against West Brom and it was nice to get that monkey off our back with our first away win.

"The players will be ready and prepared for Saturday and there is no way in a million years that we will be underestimating Newcastle.''

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