Premier League: Tony Pulis has to win Manager of the Year

Invariably the end-of-season awards in the Premier League end up going to the managers and players from the top three or four sides.

In the 20 years since the Manager of the Year award was introduced, it has never been won by a manager of a team that finished outside the top five.

But that could all change this year, with two previously unfancied managers staking their claim for the award.

Tony Pulis (Crystal Palace) and Steve Bruce (Hull City) find themselves in the running alongside the likes of Roberto Martinez (Everton), Brendan Rodgers (Liverpool) and Manuel Pellegrini (Manchester City).

And they’re not just there to make up the numbers – both Pulis and Bruce have a solid chance of taking the award, given the miracles that they’ve achieved with in the past 12 months.

Starting with Bruce, who, thanks to some trigger happy chairmen, is one of the longest-serving managers in the league with just shy of two years under his belt at the Humberside club.

The former Manchester United captain took charge of the Tigers in June 2012, when they sat in England’s second division following relegation in 2010, but soon ensured their promotion back to the Premier League.

In their first season back in the top flight, Bruce has led the side to 15th position with one game to go, securing their Premier League future this weekend.

While that may not sound impressive, Bruce spent his reasonably generous summer transfer budget on quality, Premier League-experienced players including Shane Long, Tom Huddlestone and Ahmed Elmohamady, rather than overpriced imports from overseas.

Bruce has also guided Hull City to the FA Cup final, where they play Arsenal, and whether they win or lose that match, Hull are guaranteed to play in the Europa League next season, their first European campaign in the club’s history.

And off-the-pitch, the manager has had to put up with a series of public distractions emanating from Tigers chairman Assem Allam, who campaigned to change the club’s name to ‘Hull Tigers FC’.

Allam threatened to pull his funding out of the club, should his name-change bid fail, which it ultimately did in a saga which even attracted the attentions of NBA commissioner David Stern, who backed the decision to block the change.

No matter, Bruce kept his players focussed on the task at hand and guided his team of minor stars to a respectable position in a season when relegation was never really threatened, despite their lowly position.

For Pulis, on the other hand, relegation was very much in the question when he took over at Crystal Palace in November 2013.

Under previous manager Ian Holloway, the Eagles found themselves in deep trouble in the relegation zone, three points from safety and with only two wins in the first four months of the season.

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He inherited a disjointed squad of players which was heavily overhauled by Holloway the previous summer, bringing in more than 15 players – a factor behind Holloway’s departure.

Pulis guided Palace to three wins before Christmas, and has put out sides that have kept 11 clean sheets since he took over.

Their mean defence is one thing, highlighted by a 1-0 win over Chelsea in March, but Pulis also had an excellent January transfer window.

Pulis convinced the highly sought-after midfielder Tom Ince (son of former Manchester United captain Paul) to join Palace on loan, with teams like Liverpool and Manchester United all after his signature.

Along with Ince, Celtic’s Joe Ledley also made the switch, as did Southampton’s Jason Puncheon and solid centre-back Scott Dann.

Pulis boasts something that few managers can, in the fact that he has never managed a side that has been relegated from any division.

Palace on the other hand have been relegated in the all of their four previous seasons in the Premier League, but not this year.

Pulis worked his magic once again, with the Eagles sitting in 11th place heading into the final game and relegation being staved off weeks ago.

For me, it is Pulis who must lift the Manager of the Year award. His work at Palace is nothing short of a miracle.