Hughes promises a smaller gap to the elite

Date published: Saturday 20th May 2017 2:39

Stoke boss Mark Hughes wants his team to do better next season against the Premier League big boys.

Stoke’s record against the top seven this season makes for uncomfortable reading, with just four points gained from the 14 fixtures against Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City, Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Everton.

Hughes’ side drew with City at the Etihad Stadium and Everton at the bet365 Stadium while earning a point both home and away against United.

The 53-year-old said: “In previous years we’ve been criticised for not beating the teams around us, but I’m sure a lot of the clubs in and around us have similar records this year.

“You saw on Thursday night in the game with the previous champions Leicester against Tottenham that there’s a huge difference this year, for whatever reason, and the top six or seven clubs are markedly ahead of everyone else.

“Next year everyone in the middle group will try to improve markedly like those top clubs have this year, I am convinced of that, so there won’t be the disparity that there has been this year.

“We are part of that and we will try to affect those stats better than we have been able to this year.”

Stoke sign off against Southampton on Sunday, and it is perhaps indicative of their season that goalkeeper Lee Grant was this week voted the club’s player of the year.

Grant has excelled in the absence of the injured Jack Butland, initially being brought in on loan as cover for the England international before Hughes signed him on a permanent deal from Derby in January.

Hughes insists Grant was worthy of the accolade, and not just because of the perception that he has been over-worked this season.

“When goalkeepers win the player of the year trophy I think people think it’s because it’s been a hard season and they have had too much to do,” said Hughes.

“I understand that thinking but sometimes you have to recognise when players have been outstanding and had a real impact and input on the team and influenced things with their performances.

“It doesn’t matter if they are strikers or midfielders or goalkeepers, if they have had the most marked influence on results and performances then it is right they should be recognised.

“Lee Grant fully deserved his award – he certainly got my vote. He has had an outstanding season.”

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