Mark Hughes has rubbished reports of disharmony at Premier League strugglers Stoke City.
There have been suggestions Hughes and his staff were unimpressed with Wilfried Bony’s attitude following his August loan move from Manchester City, while big-money January recruit Giannelli Imbula is also reportedly considered aloof by other members of the team.
It is an unwanted distraction for Hughes, whose side prop up the table with one point from five games, but the former Wales manager is giving little credence to the stories.
Speaking ahead of Saturday’s home game with West Brom, he told a news conference: “Let’s nip this story in the bud. Unfortunately we are fair game for some areas of work, who feel they can get easy headlines. It is very predictable, and it all comes up at these times and these situations.
“To question players is totally untrue. Wilfried has come in and made a real positive impact behind the scenes. He hasn’t had too many games in the past year and he is still getting up to speed. To say we are questioning his attitude is totally wrong. Some of the guys are struggling for a bit of form.
“Giannelli played in the week and did fine. He is a clear talent, but if his form, like anybody else, isn’t where it should be then he will come out of the team.
“It is frustrating to read these stories, because we have a great group and a very strong dressing room. We played well midweek [against Hull City in the EFL up] but lost the game. We didn’t get the breaks on the night, but there were positives we can take from it, for sure.”
Stoke’s poor form has inevitably led to speculation regarding the future of Hughes as manager, something he accepts comes with the territory.
He added: “It is to be expected when things aren’t going well. We are always looking forward to try and improve and we wanted to start brightly.
“I think I have proved in my time here that I can take this club in the right direction, which is the top half of the Premier League, which is what I set off to do when I arrived here.
“Because we are sat at the bottom now we are getting the headlines. If you come back in a few months’ time and we are having the same conversation then it would be a different situation, but I don’t think it will be.
“There is a bit of noise behind us because we haven’t won, but if we win tomorrow then we will have made a better start than we did last year, and we went on to finish ninth. We put pressure on ourselves, and we are disappointed because we wanted to make a better start. We will get positive results very quickly.”
Former Stoke manager Tony Pulis returns to the bet365 Stadium on Saturday and will take charge of his 1,000 competitive game as a manager.
Asked to comment on his countryman’s achievement, Hughes said: “He is just a manager like we all are, and will be hoping his team can come here and beat a very good team.
“Whether there is a special resonance to him, maybe you would have to ask him that. I think he will be approaching it like any other match.”