City serves up fresh bout of heartbreak for Pulis
Twelve years after sinking to his most painful defeat in football, Stoke manager Tony Pulis was on the receiving end of another agonizing late show by the same opponent at the same stadium in Saturday's FA Cup final.
Pulis was in charge of Gillingham for a third-tier English league playoff final at Wembley in 1999 when Manchester City scored twice in the final two minutes to salvage a dramatic 2-2 draw, before going on to win a nerve-racking penalty shootout.
The Welsh coach has acknowledged it took him a while to recover from that setback, which came in the formative years of his managerial career. But he had a similar sinking feeling when Yaya Toure smashed home a 74th-minute winner to clinch City a 1-0 victory in the cup final.
Not only did it stop Stoke from ending a 39-year wait for a trophy, it also prevented Pulis from gaining the sweetest possible revenge against the cash-rich northwest side which has gone from strength to strength since that playoff final.
''It's just as disappointing (as the Gillingham defeat),'' Pulis said. ''But I've nothing but congratulations for Man City. They were the better team. They deserved to win. It's difficult to say that but that's the way it is.''
Pulis, bidding to become the first Welshman to guide a team to FA Cup success since 1927, led his Stoke team out for the match dressed in a suit and tie but had changed by kickoff into his trademark attire - tracksuit and cap.
While City manager Robert Mancini stayed calm throughout the match, an animated Pulis paced up and down his technical area, barking instructions to his players. Ultimately they were in vain.
Stoke, the second-oldest professional club in England, thrashed Bolton 5-0 in the semifinal at Wembley and has been in impressive form in the Premier League, with a 3-1 victory over Arsenal lifting the team to eighth in the table.
But perhaps overawed by the occasion, Stoke never really hit its stride. Without the injured Ricardo Fuller and Danny Higginbothan and with Pulis forced into playing center back Robert Huth and winger Matty Etherington despite neither being fully fit, the team lacked its usual intensity.
''We've reached a level of performances over the last six or seven weeks, beating Newcastle, Wolves (Wolverhampton Wanderers) and Arsenal and come to Wembley and beaten Bolton very convincingly. The greatest disappointment is that today we have not reached that level,'' Pulis said.
''You need to bring your 'A' game to the table against top teams and we didn't do that. We ran out of players. And to think that City had players on the bench worth 30-odd million (striker Edin Dzeko cost City 27 million pounds and James Milner moved from Aston Villa for a fee believed to be 24 million pounds) and they never even brought them on. I think it shows you what they've got.''
Stoke missed out on a maiden FA Cup success and a first trophy since winning the League Cup in 1972. But the club can at least console itself with qualification for the Europa League, by virtue of reaching this final.
''It's fantastic that we are in Europe for the first time for so many years. We'll look forward to it,'' Pulis said.