LONDON, April 18 – Stoke manager Tony Pulis has set his sights on a Wembley revenge mission against Manchester City after his side stormed into the FA Cup final with a 5-0 thrashing of Bolton.
Pulis suffered one of the worst days of his career against City when he led Gillingham to the League One play-off final at Wembley in 1999.
Gillingham were 2-0 ahead with just minutes left but conceded two late goals before eventually losing to Joe Royle’s City on penalties.
Pulis hadn’t been back to Wembley since that heart-breaking day until he took his Stoke team there for Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final.
This time around he was able to savour the taste of success at the English national stadium as Stoke secured their first ever FA Cup final appearance with a five-star display.
Now Pulis has a chance to exact a measure of revenge for that loss to City 12 years ago and he admits it would make winning the cup even sweeter.
"I suppose it will mean more," he said. "We didn’t deserve to lose that game and I had never been back to Wembley for a game since because of it.
"But it made me a much stronger person. You take things out of defeat as well as victory."
Stoke have been labelled as long-ball merchants and even a pub team in some quarters but, while their direct tactics can’t be ignored, they rose to the occasion at Wembley and scored some spectacular goals.
Matthew Etherington opened the scoring with a fine strike before Robert Huth steered in the second.
Kenwyne Jones bagged the third before half-time and two second half strikes from Jonathan Walters – the first easily the goal of the day – sealed the biggest FA Cup semi-final win for 72 years.
"We have been criticised and pulled down and I am not sure whether this victory will stop it," Pulis said.
"When we lost our first game at the start of the season, one bookmaker paid out on us to get relegated.
"There is always the stigma. The first year we were in the Premier League we worked very hard at being organised and methodical in what we did.
"We have moved on from that and will continue to get better.
"Staying in the Premier League is vital for us. It has given us a little bit more resource to get the likes of Matthew Etherington and Kenwyne Jones, who we know will improve the team."
Bolton manager Owen Coyle bemoaned his side’s poor defending and admitted the size of the defeat was a massive disappointment for a team who went into the match as slight favourites.
"I certainly don’t think anybody envisaged what happened," he said.
"From our point of view we’ve lost soft goals. I think we were the architects of our own downfall.
"We were certainly way below what we are capable of. We didn’t perform to the levels we have before.
"As it sometimes can happen against you on the big stage it can work against you.
"There will be a few regrets because they know they haven’t performed to their best."
Bolton captain Kevin Davies described the loss as the worst of his career.
"It was a horrible experience the manner of the defeat. The first goal was like something from five-a-side rather than on an occasion like this," he said.
"To see the goals going in, I don’t know what to say. It was just one of those days. We will try and put it right. It is just a terrible dream at the minute.
"We are all devastated and very emotional. It is very difficult and we feel ashamed and embarrassed.
"We feel sorry for the supporters as they paid a lot of money to come down. We’ve had a lot of plaudits this year and we will take the criticism and stand up as men."