Southampton-Stoke City Preview
LONDON (SE) - An ebullient Stoke City boss Tony Pulis has hailed his current side as the best of his tenure ahead of Saturday's visit to the Britannia Stadium by Southampton.
Stoke City have the third-worst attack in the Premier League with 18 goals, but a league-best defence that has conceded 14 with Bosnia international Asmir Begovic posting nine clean sheets has steered the Potters to eighth place on 28 points.
Pulis continues to insist that his goal is 40 points, although the manager could not deny the quality his side produced in a rousing 3-1 victory over Liverpool at the Britannia on Boxing Day.
"We have to take it gradual," Pulis said. "This is most probably the best team I've had and it's our fifth year. What you've gotta try and do is make sure you have a better team again the next year and the following year but do it at our pace and within the budget that we've got."
The Potters conceded Steven Gerrard's penalty in the second minute before their first three-goal outburst of the season. The strike partnership of Jonathan Walters and Kenwyne Jones paid dividends as Walters sandwiched goals around Jones' second tally of the campaign.
"We played well," Pulis said. "The lads, most probably the two players who were off it a little bit was our two centre halves. Apart from that, the rest of our team played really well."
Stoke City are unbeaten in nine and join Everton as the Premier League's only unbeaten home teams.
These teams last met in the Championship when each won 3-2 at home in 2007-08.
"We've got a tough game against Southampton on Saturday," Pulis said. "It'll most probably be a more difficult game than tonight and they've got to turn up and do what they've done again today and that is play as a team, which they've done tonight."
Southampton earned a deserved point with a 1-1 draw at Fulham on Boxing Day when Rickie Lambert converted a penalty in the 85th minute. The Saints had lost six and won once in their first seven away fixtures.
Boss Nigel Adkins' side sit just above the drop zone on 16 points in 15th place. He believes the Saints are showing improvement by conceding one or no goals in eight straight matches after yielding two or more in nine of their first 10 matches.
"We've got a lot of players and myself included, we've not played at this level before," Adkins said. "So we've got to learn and learn quickly and I do believe we have."
The Saints have stabilised their back four with the combination of Nathaniel Clyne, Maya Yoshida, Jose Fonte and Luke Shaw starting each of the last eight matches.
"It will be a really, really tough game because Stoke haven't lost a home game this season," Yoshida told the Saints' official website.
Lambert has seven of the Saints' 23 goals, with no other player scoring more than twice.
Adkins indicated he may make changes for this trip.
"Over the Christmas period, I've highlighted we're going to utilise the squad, which is important," Adkins said. "All the players want to play, we need competition for places."