Etherington: We will relish underdog tag
Stoke City winger Matthew Etherington believes Stoke will thrive on being the underdogs against Manchester City in next month's FA Cup final and backed his side to prove the doubters wrong again on May 14.
Etherington, 29, started the ball rolling with his sixth goal of the season in the 5-0 rout of Bolton in Sunday's semi-final, to set up a meeting with Roberto Mancini's City.
It was arguably Stoke's finest performance under manager Tony Pulis, given the club are enjoying only their third season in the Premier League. Now they are set to go head to head with mega-rich City with the possibility of European football at the Britannia Stadium next season.
"Whatever team you get in the final it is going to be a really tough match," Etherington said. "City have got world-class players but if we play like we did against Bolton we will be a match for anyone.
"We like being the underdogs and thrive on that. We tend to prove people wrong on a regular basis. Hopefully we can do so again in the final. I am sure our fans will take the roof off the place and it's a great day to look forward to.''
A losing finalist with West Ham in 2006, Etherington was named Man of the Match in the 5-0 thrashing of Bolton and credits Pulis for his upsurge in form.
"I feel as though I am at the top of my game, '' he said. "I am playing as well as I have ever done and I'm happy. The manager puts an arm around me and tells me how good I am and how good I can be. It makes you believe it. He is a great man-manager and has been fantastic for me personally.''
Pulis is poised to become the first Welsh boss to lift the FA Cup since George Latham achieved that feat with Cardiff in 1927. However according to Stoke's young skipper Ryan Shawcross his manager already has cult status in the Potteries.
"Tony Pulis has been a legend for a long while. He's done so much for the club, to take us from where we were," Shawcrsos said. "When I first joined we were struggling in the Championship and for him to take us all the way to the FA Cup final and hopefully a top-10 finish is massive.
"He doesn't get enough credit for it. He's a very good man-manager and a very good manager.''
Englishman Fred Stewart was Cardiff's manager 84 years ago and Latham their coach when Arsenal were defeated 1-0 but no Welsh manager/coach has won the FA Cup since then. It is little wonder Newport-born Pulis, 53, will savour the occasion when they meet Manchester City.
"It will mean a lot for me to lead the team out," Pulis said. "I lost my mum this year. We used to sit round the TV and watch the FA Cup. The players have embraced this like you can't believe and they will look forward to coming back to Wembley.
"This victory will give them the confidence to give it a good go. We know we will be playing against a good football team, with great players and one that has great tradition.''