Pulis: Villa have underachieved

O’Neill quit the Villa Park hot-seat on the eve of the season and

neither caretaker manager Kevin McDonald nor the Northern

Irishman’s permanent successor Gerard Houllier have managed to

achieve consistently good results with a highly-talented squad.

Villa do, at least, appear safe from relegation following last

weekend’s victory at West Ham but Pulis believes they should have

done better. He said: “They are one of the great under-achievers

this year. “Martin O’Neill is one of the top managers in this

country and for someone to take over from Martin was always going

to be difficult. They are big shoes to fill. “And with Gerard

Houllier being out of the game for a while it was always going to

be a slow transition and it has taken them a bit of time to get

going. “I am sure they will be better next year, they are a great

football club. “There are clubs that are at a level above us at the

moment and Villa are one of them but we will try to go there and

win.” Pulis certainly cannot be accused of failing to get the

maximum out of his squad after watching them secure a place in the

FA Cup final for the first time in the club’s history last weekend.

The 5-0 thrashing of Bolton at Wembley represented the highlight in

a season in which Stoke have enhanced their reputation as a growing

force in the top flight. But Welshman Pulis is demanding his

players put the Wembley showpiece against Manchester City on May 14

to one side and focus on finishing the season strongly. “Winning

the Bolton game was fantastic and the way we did it was the icing

on the cake but you move on,” he added. “We have seven massive

games left, it was a semi-final, not a final, we play a great club

in Manchester City, a club which has invested enormous sums but we

have to move on. “We have an important game against Villa and then

an important week – we play Wolves on Tuesday and then go to

Blackpool on Saturday. “We gave the players a couple of days off

but they were in yesterday and they were brilliant, they trained

really well.” Pulis can choose from a full-strength squad for the

short trip down the M6 and he admitted confidence was high. “You

can’t knock them down with a bus at the moment. Everyone’s flying,”

he said. His only real selection poser comes in goal with Asmir

Begovic pushing to replace Thomas Sorensen, who has played

predominantly in the cup competitions this season.