A top-ten finish would represent a fine season for Stoke City, but manager Mark Hughes insists he will always ask his players to achieve more.
As good a job as Tony Pulis undoubtedly did during his tenure at the Britannia Stadium, he was unable to guide the Potters to a top half finish in the Premier League. Having secured promotion from the Championship in 2007-08, the best Stoke have fared amongst the elite is their 11th place finish in 2009-10, when they registered 47 points.
This term, though, they are on course to better both. With just three matches of the campaign left to play, two of which are at the Britannia Stadium, they currently sit exactly halfway in the ladder on 44 points, although they are just a single point ahead of 11th placed Crystal Palace who, ironically, are now managed by Pulis.
To finish in the top half of the table would be a fine achievement for Hughes in his first season at the club, and would also help repair his damaged reputation from his ill-fated spell at Queens Park Rangers. However, the Welshman insists his ambitions for Stoke extend beyond this, and he will expect the same from his players.
“We set ourselves a challenge at the beginning of the year and we’re on course,” he said. “I sat them down and said this is what we are going to try and do. Maybe some of them in the room didn’t believe it was possible. But credit to them, they have really focused on what we needed to do and hit almost every target we have set them during the season.
“I think a lot of people thought we would have difficulty competing, but we have been okay and we’re in a great position to finish off the season in a good way. The lads have been great. But we’ve still got to achieve things. I always try to set targets which will enable the team I’m at to go for something they haven’t achieved before.”
Stoke will now look to take maximum points from their next two matches, which are both at home, against Tottenham Hotspur and Fulham, before ending the campaign with a trip to the Hawthorns to take on West Bromwich Albion. Indeed, a good end to the season could even see them close the gap on ninth place Newcastle United, who appear to be in freefall and, just two points ahead, arguably have a more difficult run-in.