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Stats gurus find a good story counts for more than stats in the dugout

When two disciples of sabermetrics took charge of minor league team Sonoma Stompers, they quickly discovered advanced analytics were useless without a knowledge of locker-room politics

Back when newspaper pockets were swollen enough to send numerous hacks into the lower leagues every Saturday, I ended up covering Tony Pulis’s first game as Stoke City manager in November 2002. It didn’t start well. After 70 minutes his new team were 3-0 behind to Walsall, and Pulis was staring glumly at the sodden turf. That at least had one benefit: it meant he couldn’t see the Stoke fans angrily heckling him. But he sure as hellcould hear them. “You don’t know what you are doing,” they spat, each chant more venomous than the last.

You hear it all the time. The sound of fans thinking they know best. But rarely is a manager able to stick two metaphorical fingers back so quickly as Pulis did that day. While the chants were still ringing out, he brought on Andy Cooke and Chris Greenacre and switched to three up front. Within minutes both substitutes had scored and Stoke came close to an unlikely point. Maybe, as I wrote at the time, Pulis knew what he was doing after all.

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