- Premier League
Pulis defends goal-shy Crouch
Tony Pulis has defended Peter Crouch over his lack of impact this season ahead of Stoke City's crucial relegation encounter with Aston Villa at the Britannia Stadium.
Crouch has suffered a miserable run of late, with just one goal in his last 25 appearances for the club as Stoke's lack of firepower has seen them sucked into the struggle for Premier League survival.
The former England striker almost left the Britannia in the January transfer window, but a potential move to Queens Park Rangers collapsed and frustrated Stoke fans are demanding Pulis select Kenwyne Jones ahead of Crouch for the visit of third-bottom Villa.
Despite Stoke being the lowest scorers in the Premier League, Jones hit three goals in four starts in December, but lost his place as soon as Crouch returned from a facial injury suffered against Newcastle United.
Crouch looks certain to start against Villa and Pulis said: "You pick a team you think will do well and I thought Peter linked the play brilliantly for us at Everton.
"Scoring goals is one of the areas we have got to look at. I have fantastic respect for Peter. He's an absolute dream player to work with. Every day in training his enthusiasm is infectious. He trains with a smile on his face."
Pulis has made it clear all his players have to contribute on the lack of goals and has tried to ease the pressure on his team as they prepare for what could be one of their most important matches of the season.
Victory would take Stoke seven points clear of Villa and the relegation zone - but defeat could leave them sitting on as little as a one-point advantage over the bottom three.
"People say this is the crunch game, but we have seven games left to get six points to reach 40. I'm working my socks off to make sure the team don't feel any pressure," said Pulis.
"We are at home and the players realise that if they put in a hard-working shift, then they will have the backing of 25,000 people. There can be negativity out there in the press, on the telly and on the radio, but we have to deal with that.
"It's part of the job and certainly for the players who have to have the confidence to go out there on the pitch and perform."