With half of the Premier League season gone, much of the talk has been concentrated who has the best chance of winning the title – with Chelsea leading the line, and the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, and Manchester City following behind. However, while most of the fans centered on the top four to six clubs, only a relative few concentrate on the teams below.
One particular team that has been shrugged off is West Bromwich Albion, who under veteran manager Tony Pulis, has had a good campaign thus far this season. As of this writing, they are in eighth place with 29 points, just a point away from seventh-place Everton.
Sure, on paper, that’s not something for the national media to rave about, but if you think about it, they actually should.
Two seasons ago, West Brom were on the verge of relegation, with the board’s gamble on appointing Alan Irvine as head coach at the beginning of the 2014-15 campaign not paying off. Irvine was eventually sacked before 2014 ended, with the club having won only four of their first 20 matches, leaving them hovering dangerously above the relegation zone in 17th place.
Enter Tony Pulis, who just came off a five-month hiatus after leaving Crystal Palace, but didn’t appear to have missed a beat in terms of managing a Premier League club. In his first game, he managed to draw 1-1 against West Ham on New Year’s Day 2015, which was a welcome result for the fans after three straight losses beforehand.
From there, Pulis masterminded West Brom’s escape from the clutches of the drop, ending the season in 13th place with 44 points, nine points clear from the relegation places.
Fast forward to now, just a couple of years on, and West Brom are knocking on the door of the top 7 in the league. Such a showing at West Brom has proven time and again the managerial prowess that Tony Pulis possesses. He has shown it many times before. Here are the top three clubs Pulis has helped lift up from relegation battlers to mid-table fighters.
Plymouth Argyle (2005-2006)
Much like Pulis’ entrance at West Brom, the Welsh manager came in as Plymouth boss with the club in tatters. The Pilgrims have just sacked previous manager Bobby Williamson after having lost four of his six first games. The writing had been on the wall for Williamson in the previous season, with the club barely escaping relegation from the Football League Championship.
Pulis’ first game was a shaky, unconvincing 0-0 draw against Southampton, but he soon got into gear, leading relegation-contenders Argyle to a commanding 14th place finish with 56 points, 14 points clear off the drop zone.
Pulis was at Argyle for only a season before returning to Stoke.
The “Tony Pulis is the Saviour” theme continues with Gillingham, who were in dire straits at the start of the 1995-96 season. Gillingham finished the previous season in 19th place in the old Third Division (now League Two) and as such found financing their club difficult. They were almost ordered to be closed but survived thanks to investment from Paul Scally, who remains the club’s chairman to this day.
With the financial end of the club stabilised, the new manager coming in had to ensure things were solid on his end – and Pulis pulled off the job in spectacular fashion. From a club wallowing in the bottom of the football league, Gillingham went on to finish 2nd in the Welshman’s first season in charge, gaining promotion to the old Second Division.
Pulis spent the next two season building the club’s foundation, managing to avoid relegation and sealing the Kent-based club’s foothold in mid-table. In Pulis’ last season in charge of the club, he managed to lead Gillingham to the promotion play-off finals. Unfortunately, they were defeated by Manchester City on penalties.
Second Spell at Stoke (2006-2013)
Don’t be confused, his first spell at Stoke was admirable: in typical Pulis fashion, he saved the club from relegation from the Championship in his first season. However, it was Pulis’ second stint with Stoke that really highlighted the Welshman’s managerial abilities.
Take note, when Pulis came in for the second time during the 2006-07 campaign, Stoke were used to being a mid-table side, wallowing around the 13th-15th place come the end of the season. It wasn’t special, but it provided stability. It was then that the Welsh manager decided to raise the bar at the Britannia Stadium. Sure enough, he finished eighth, just two points shy of the play-off places. Having augmented the squad, he eventually led the Potters to the Premier League a year later.
It was at this level, the very top of English football, that Pulis was tested. And he came out on top – he managed to keep Stoke in the Premier League in their first season at the top flight, finishing strongly in 12th place. The following season, they finished 11th.
Then came the fabled 2010-11 season, when Pulis led Stoke to their first-ever FA Cup final. Despite having lost to Manchester City 1-0, Stoke still managed to bag a Europa League place. They would fight valiantly in Europe as well, reaching the Round of 32, defeating the likes of Besiktas and Dynamo Kiev, among others.
It was then that Stoke chairman Peter Coates hailed Pulis as the club’s “greatest ever manager”.