Games piling up for Stoke

It may have been a light quip, but there was also some seriousness to Stoke manager Tony Pulis' remark with regard to not talking about the season catching up with his players.

Two goals for Huth in the match.

Saturday's 2-0 victory at Derby was Stoke's 14th cup tie of what has so far been a remarkable season for Pulis and his squad.

Goals from Cameron Jerome and Robert Huth eased the Potters into the fifth round of the FA Cup, a tie that will sandwich two legs of their mouthwatering last-32 Europa League clash with Valencia next month.

Victories in both will push the number of cup matches to 20, the equivalent of just over half a Barclays Premier League campaign, a burden on a squad such as Manchester City or United, never mind Stoke.

Rightly, though, and with the blessing of the club-owning Coates family, Pulis is targeting the cup competitions, appreciating the rewards they can bring, as last year when they finished as beaten finalists in the FA Cup.

"You'd have to look at it, but how many other teams have played as many cup ties as we have so far this season?" said Pulis.

"We've played 14, and we're guaranteed now another three with the fifth round of the FA Cup and the two games against Valencia.

"So that will be 17 in a Premier League season for a club that is still relatively new in the top flight.

"That's a great testament to the players for the amount of games they've had to play in, and the effort and commitment they give.

"What we've got to do now is make sure we take it nice and steady.

"We're coming towards an important stage in the season, and we have to make sure we stay focused on the Premier League, get as many points as we can.

"But also when the cup ties come around we want to win them, and that is what we proved against Derby, giving the competition and Derby a lot of respect with the team we put out there.

"The thing we want to do, and it's something I've spoken about to the family and they're 100% behind it, is we want to have a go in the cup competitions."

There is no question Pulis feels his squad is strong enough, which is why he concedes he is not chasing players before the transfer window closes on Tuesday, underlining just how far Stoke have progressed.

"Players drop off and they will need a break," said Pulis.

"So it's about being sensible enough to look at your players and saying 'yes, he can play another game', or 'no, he can't, he needs to come out'.

"But then we've some good players who are not playing. If you look at the squad against Derby, the ones who haven't played, there are some good players and we'll use them - we'll have to use them."

But when asked whether all the matches at present would eventually take a toll on his squad, there was a wry smile before he said: "We won't talk about that.

"We want to keep that away from the players as much as we can."

For Derby boss Nigel Clough, the game helped him realise how far his side have to go if they are to one day return to the Premier League and at least compete on an equal footing.

The npower Championship club managed just one shot on target over the 90 minutes as they failed to find a way through Stoke's brick wall of a defence.

Taking the positives, Clough said: "It's a great learning curve for the likes of Callum Ball and Jeff Hendrick, at just 19, playing against the eighth best team in the country.

"Bally was out there battling away against two big centre-halves, and he'll be better for the experience.

"As for Jeff, he was playing against a guy in Glenn Whelan whose (Republic of Ireland) shirt I suppose he is hoping to take in the next few years, and I thought he showed a lot of potential.

"Jamie Ward was a threat all game, and maybe it was a compliment to him that they changed the team a little and played a different full-back.

"Stoke are a difficult side to create chances against, they're big and strong, and that's why they're eighth in the Premier League."

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