Remarkable turnaround

Jermaine Pennant, who signed a two-and-a-half-year deal with Stoke City at the turn of the year after arriving on loan, has not only thrilled the fans with his old-fashioned wing play but also embraced the club's strict work ethic. By Ken Gaunt.

Jermaine Pennant's star looked in the ascendancy despite Liverpool losing to AC Milan in the UEFA Champions League final of 2007. The talented winger had given an impressive performance in Athens against Carlo Ancelotti's side, setting up Dirk Kuyt's late consolation goal in a 2-1 defeat.

Pennant then spoke of the need for himself and the club to move on and clinch the league title the following season. However Liverpool again failed to deliver and for the player it was a fairly miserable time as well.

He made only 25 appearances in the 2007-08 campaign compared to 52 the previous year after being struck down with injuries including a fractured tibia and a hamstring problem. It proved to be the beginning of the end at Anfield for Pennant, who then fell out with manager Rafael Benitez.

Pennant joined Real Zaragoza last season following a spell on loan at Portsmouth but he did not take to Spanish life either. Enter Stoke manager Tony Pulis whose stewardship has resulted in a remarkable turnaround in the player's fortunes.

Pennant, who signed a two-and-a-half-year deal at the turn of the year after arriving on loan, has not only thrilled the fans with his old-fashioned wing play but also embraced the club's strict work ethic.

If his display in the Champions League final was a strong one so too was his performance in the 5-0 rout of Bolton in the FA Cup semifinal.

Pulis will be looking for more of the same. “If you look at Pennant, you see how hard he works,” said the Stoke boss. “He has grasped and understood that this is a club where everyone works hard. Whoever you are we expect them to put a shift in. He has the bit between his teeth and it is fantastic to see that from a player who people told me was quite lazy.”

Pennant was signed at the age of 15 by Arsenal from Notts County for GBP2 million, a record fee for a trainee at the time. But his attitude won him few friends. He found it hard to settle down and moved from club to club, sometimes on loan.

Then in 2005 he was sentenced to three months in prison after he was found guilty of drink-driving, driving while disqualified and having no insurance. Pennant insists those days are behind him and that he already feels at home at the Britannia Stadium, where Pulis is a noted hard task-master.

The Welshman's methods work. Stoke also look comfortable among England's elite clubs.

Pennant said: “I think I've found a level of stability here. The manager likes his wingers but he also likes them working hard. Me and Matty Etherington cover the most distance out of everyone at the club. I know I have only been here a few months, but it really does feel like I have been here for years. The atmosphere around the place is brilliant. I am looking forward to the fact that I am here at Stoke now for the long term and back in the best league in the world.”

Stoke have spent the last three seasons in the Barclays Premier League proving people wrong and upsetting the bigger clubs, a fact which was perfectly highlighted by their comfortable 3-1 win over third-placed Arsenal at the Britannia Stadium. And although a one-off match at a neutral venue may benefit City's vast array of experienced internationals Stoke showed with their demolition of Bolton they can perform on the big occasion.

“In recent weeks we have proven that we can cut it against the top teams. We held Chelsea to a draw and we beat a very good Arsenal side pretty comfortably, so we are in fine form. A lot of people asked questions as to whether the 5-0 win against Bolton would hinder our progress but I think we have answered that with our performances. People keep asking questions of us and we keep answering them.”

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