Pulis: McLeish should be given time

Stoke boss Tony Pulis believes Aston Villa could be a big success under Alex McLeish – if the Scot is given time.

McLeish is still to win over a significant proportion of Villa fans having defected from cross-city rivals Birmingham in the summer.

Villa have had a mixed campaign to date and sit 12th in the Barclays Premier League ahead of their Boxing Day trip to the Britannia Stadium.

Pulis feels fans must show patience towards the former Scotland and Rangers boss as the club remain in transition following the departure of their two previous managers in quick succession.

Pulis said: "I have got a lot of respect for Alex.

"It is a great job but it’s a tough job and he has gone there from their rivals. It’s never easy doing that.

"But have a look at his record, when he was up in Scotland and when he came down here. It’s first class.

"Just give him time and patience. They’re two very difficult words to stick to in football but he needs time, like we all do.

"He needs to time to put his mark and his stamp on the football club.

"Give him a couple of years and I am sure that club will be a strong, vibrant, successful club. You just can’t turn it round overnight."

Stoke are five points better off than Villa in eighth and, by their standards, have made a brilliant start to the season.

They did have an indifferent spell from mid-October to mid-November but prior to their midweek loss at leaders Manchester City they had won four in succession and they have also reached the Europa League last 32.

Because of that McLeish has labelled Stoke the favourites ahead of Monday’s clash – a rare tag for a game between the two near-neighbours – but Pulis is not accepting it.

He said: "Managers talk so much blarney!

"Alex is a manager and I’m a manager. You try to take pressure off your own club and your own players when you go into games, so I won’t be taking any notice of Alex.

"They have got great players and we are expecting a really tough game.

"He has got to do what he has got to do and I have got to do what I’ve got to do – but I’ll have a drink waiting for him after the game irrespective of the result.

"Our supporters will be looking forward to it and it is not far for the Villa supporters to travel, so it will be a great game I am sure.

"We are just hoping we get that little bit of luck you need to win football matches at this level."

Pulis has no intention of resting on his laurels and believes his team still have much to do to ensure they do not get pulled into a relegation battle.

The Potters are in their fourth season back in the top flight and have avoided the drop with comfort each time so far.

They now want to push on and establish themselves in the top half but Pulis insists safety is still top priority.

He said: "Every game that we play we look at and respect it, in respect of the of the points we need to gain to get us to safety.

"Our aim, and people may laugh and mock, is to get safe as quickly as we possibly can. That is so important for the football club, staying in the Premier League.

"What we are doing in Europe is just a bonus for us. The Premier League is our bread and butter."

Darren Bent has revealed his determination to increase his goals per game ratio for Aston Villa as he set his sights on being part of England’s Euro 2012 squad next summer.

Bent has resumed training after missing the last two games with a thigh problem and is expected to return to action at Stoke.

He angered some fans by going shopping during the latter stages of the Liverpool game on Sunday.

But the striker has since apologised for upsetting any supporters and now has his thoughts on boosting his goal tally.

The 27-year-old scored nine goals in 16 games last season after his £18million move from Sunderland – an average of one every 1.77 matches.

But he has been on target five times in 14 appearances during the current campaign – a ratio of one every 2.8 games.

Bent said: "Throughout my career, I’ve always maintained a one-in-two ratio and at the moment it’s virtually one every three games this season.

"I could easily be in double figures and had numerous chances this season but for some reason it just hasn’t been happening.

"But all it takes is a goal here and there and things will kick back into place.

"As long as the chances keep coming, I’m confident I can score regularly."

Bent missed out on selection for the 2006 and 2010 World Cups while England did not qualify for Euro 2008.

He has become a regular part of the side during 2012 after a run of four goals in five internationals but is taking nothing for granted.

Bent said: "I’d love to be part of a major tournament with England but I never take anything for granted or count my chickens.

"I suppose I’m like that because a lot has happened to me with England squads.

"I missed out on the 2006 and 2010 World Cups after being in contention beforehand.

"But I just hope I do myself justice, play well for Villa, and keep hold of the shirt and stay part of the squad."

Villa boss Alex McLeish confirmed he expects Bent to be available for the trip to the Britannia Stadium.

He said: "Darren looked sharp in training and I don’t see any reason why he won’t be involved on Monday."

McLeish is aware of the lift a win at Stoke would have on his players who produced a vastly-improved performance when beaten 2-1 at home by Arsenal in midweek.

He said: "It is a big challenge and a tough place to go but if it’s one we can win, then the confidence would soar through the roof.

"The good thing was our approach against Arsenal. I felt in a couple of the recent games against the elite clubs, the players were a wee bit intimidated.

"Against Arsenal, they let the shackles off. It’s a lot to do with the mentality."

In addition to Bent, striker Emile Heskey (Achilles) and central defender James Collins (knee) are also expected to be fit to face the Potters.