Etherington and Huth given time to get fit

LONDON - Stoke City will give Robert Huth and Matthew Etherington as long as possible to prove their fitness before Saturday's FA Cup Final against Manchester City at Wembley, manager Tony Pulis said on Friday.

Stoke, who are in their first FA Cup final, will be clear underdogs when they face Roberto Mancini's expensively-assembled City team and Pulis is desperate for the pair to play.

Winger Etherington damaged a hamstring in the 3-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers last month while defender Huth suffered a knee ligament injury in Sunday's 3-1 win over Arsenal.

"The two of them, they are training, in respect of doing light training, but we will have fitness tests," Pulis told a news conference.

"Like I said with Matthew, like when he got injured, it will be a last minute call and it looks like with Robert it will be a last minute call - Saturday morning or Saturday just before the game - we'll make a decision.

"But the two of them are desperate to play, we're desperate for them to play. It's just whether it's right for the team and whether it's right for them that they can play and are fit enough to play."

Stoke, whose only major trophy is their League Cup triumph back in 1972, have suffered only one defeat in their last nine games in all competitions and Pulis believes the fans have played a massive part in their success thanks to Cup fever.

"It's the city itself, the 28,000 people who will go up and watch it - the chosen 28,000," he said. "There are about 250,000 who would love to go up there (Wembley) and be part of it. The area has really taken off.


"Ever since we got into the Premier League (in 2008) the place has turned around and it's fantastic driving around the city and seeing so many people wearing Stoke City shirts. It's fantastic that so many people now talk about our football club.

"The support has been the main reason - especially the first two years - that we have stayed in the Premiership because our home record even this year has been absolutely phenomenal and they have played a massive part in that."

Stoke are a heady eighth in the Premier League but will be in the Europa League next season whatever happens in the final with Manchester City destined for the Champions League qualifiers.

The only cloud on Pulis's horizon is the fact that the showpiece domestic final is being played after a clutch of Premier League matches in which Manchester United could clinch the title and steal the FA Cup's thunder.

Asked about the timing of this year's final Pulis said: "Well, I think it is wrong. The reason they have done it... is to play the European game, the European (Champions League) final at Wembley and they wanted two weeks clear to do that.

"So again it just puts into place everything that is happening in English football. You know it is obviously international football first, Champions League second, Premier League third and FA Cup fourth at the moment."

Pulis, who could become the first Welsh manager to lead a team to FA Cup success, clearly loves the competition and has very fond memories of watching the final as a boy.

"Personally, it will be very special for me," he said.

"As a young kid in South Wales you could watch the European Cup and you could watch the FA Cup live but apart from the World Cups you never saw live football so it was such a special day and great memories.

"So to actually be part of that will be fantastic."