Pulis deserves plaudits for Stoke progress
Critics of Stoke City boss Tony Pulis - and there are a few out there - might raise a wry smile when they learn that he had half an eye on England's Six Nations clash with Scotland as he answered questions after his side's dramatic FA Cup quarter-final win over West Ham, and even chuckle when they discover that he also announced he "loves rugby".
After all, in the past his tactics have been unkindly compared to those employed in the oval-ball game.
Undoubtedly, Pulis's approach rubs many people up the wrong way, and not just purists like Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, who made that rugby jibe. Even some Potters fans have voiced their disapproval this season.
But, as he contemplates taking Stoke to Wembley for their first Cup semi-final since 1972, the Welshman clearly does not care one bit.
"We get criticised for scoring a lot of our goals from set-plays but, as a coach, I actually enjoy us doing that - and I have enjoyed it all my life," Pulis said.
"We work on those on the training ground and it is a great reward when they come off, not just for us but for the top clubs too. But I don't take any notice of what people outside this club say anyway. Those who have known me long enough will know I just let them get on with it."
Danny Higginbotham struck Stoke's winner with a free-kick that just got past Robert Green
Pulis will be pleased, then, that both of Stoke's goals in their pulsating clash with the Hammers came via that route - the first a Robert Huth header from Rory Delap's long-throw, and the second from Danny Higginbotham's thunderous free-kick - although the fact they have only found the net in open play in any competition once since the start of February, when Jon Walters headed home a Marc Wilson cross against League One side Brighton in the FA Cup fourth-round, is not exactly a reason to be cheerful.
But the perception that Stoke are one-dimensional seems a bit unfair on Sunday's evidence. Pulis revealed afterwards that he picked two wingers to make the most of the space West Ham leave in front of their full-backs with their attacking 4-3-3 formation, and Jermaine Pennant and Matty Etherington caused enough chaos to mean the assertion by Hammers boss Avram Grant that the home side did not threaten in open play was incorrect.
If we are speaking aesthetically, though, even Pulis's biggest fans will accept that he is never going to win too many plaudits inside, and especially outside, the Britannia Stadium. But there is far more to football than that - and Stoke's first visit to Wembley since they won the 2000 Auto Windscreens Shield shows how far he has taken a club who had just finished 13th in the Championship when he began his
second spell in charge in June 2006.
Stoke currently occupy one place higher in the Premier League, but Pulis believes it is the rate of his initial progress that is behind the current rumblings of discontent from supporters, not just over those tactics but also his team selections and transfer policy too - an example of both being how scarcely-used fans' favourite Tuncay was before being sold to German side Wolfsburg in January.
"The problem is with people getting blasé," he explained.
"We have won promotion and then finished 12th and 11th in the next two years, while reaching three cup quarter-finals. Expectations have risen and then there is the feeling that we should be beating this team and the other. But we have no god-given right to beat anybody unless we go out there and work hard enough.
"There are a lot of clubs who have been in the Premier League a lot longer than we have, so we have to guard people - players and fans - from that sort of complacency and make sure we are on the front foot all of the time."
Pulis is aware just how precarious the Premier League is, especially after sliding to within three points of the relegation zone after a run of six away defeats - including a 3-0 thumping at the hands of West Ham last week, a game he watched the dvd of four times in order to find a way of getting at the London side for their next meeting seven days later.
But, even with the prospect of that Wembley date with Bolton on the horizon, he is confident he can get his team to focus on picking up points to preserve their top-flight status, starting with a home game against Newcastle next weekend.
Tony Pulis last led a team at Wembley when he was with Gillingham 12 years ago
"The first thing I said to the players at the final whistle (of the West Ham win) was 'this is brilliant, and enjoy it, but don't forget we have got a tough game on Saturday," Pulis said.
"The best way of reminding them about our situation is to tell them to look at the league table, and we will certainly be doing that over the next few days."
The last time Pulis was at Wembley was as Gillingham manager in 1999, for a heartbreaking defeat by Manchester City in the League One play-off final, so it is fair to say he has unfinished business there.
He insists, however, that he will not be distracted by the prospect of personal glory either, something I can believe having spoken to him last year, mostly about the Cup as it happens.
The 53-year-old has never won a trophy in his 19-year managerial career but he has never been relegated either, and I am pretty sure maintaining the latter statistic rather than changing the former remains his priority, even though he now finds himself in the FA Cup's final four.
That is not to say Pulis is not relishing this cup run after spending the early part of his managerial career toiling in the lower divisions. But he claims he takes most pleasure from repaying Stoke chairman Peter Coates for the support he has has given him, and his delight for the fans who had heeded his pre-match call to put their frustrations to one side was obvious too.
He refused to single out any of his players for special praise, but described Higginbotham's winner, which was the defender's first in the FA Cup during a career that has spanned more than 350 senior games, as being "a long time coming, but worth waiting for".
If Pulis does finally manage to get his hands on some silverware this season, then he will probably describe that success in the same way.
You can follow me throughout the season on Twitter @chrisbevan_bbc