These are challenging times for Tony Pulis. Stoke City have won only one of their past 11 Premier League matches, discontent is festering in the stands and the manager is waking up to headlines about his future. So much for the chance to get some respite during the international break.

The goalless draw against West Bromwich Albion on Saturday leaves Stoke occupying 11th place, which, on the face of it, feels like a more than satisfactory position for a club that has never finished in the top half of the Premier League. Appearances, though, can be deceptive in this season's table. Stoke are only four points better off than Aston Villa, who have endured a miserable campaign and are one place above the relegation zone.

Scrapping around in the final eight games to be sure of breaking through the 40-point mark was perfectly acceptable in 2008-09, when Stoke were desperately trying to survive in their first season back in the top flight for 23 years, but times and expectations have changed. After reaching the FA Cup final in 2011, playing in Europe the following season and holding their own in the Premier League, supporters want to see a bit more on the menu. "If you're given steak and chips every day, steak and chips becomes the norm," Pulis said last week.

Whether the cuisine at Stoke has been that good under Pulis is a matter of debate, but you get the point he is trying to make. Stoke are a completely different club, on and off the pitch, to the one he rejoined in 2006. Winning promotion to the Premier League in his second season was quite an achievement but keeping Stoke there and turning them into an established Premier League club is quite another.

For that Pulis deserves plenty of credit, although he has not done this on his own. Peter Coates, the chairman who knew his decision to bring Pulis back would be unpopular with some supporters, has been the most generous of benefactors, providing the funds to transform the club's training facilities and compete in the transfer market. Stoke's net spend over the past five seasons is not far off £80m. To put that figure into context, only Manchester City and Chelsea have spent more.

"On transfer fees and money spent on the first team, nobody can question the Coates family on the amount of money they have invested in this football club," Pulis said on Tuesday, after it was reported that one of the reasons he was considering his position in the summer was that he was frustrated with the amount of money being pumped into the academy instead of going into his transfer budget.

With that £80m figure in mind, there is an argument to be made that Coates, never mind the supporters, is entitled to expect a bit more, not only in terms of the league position but also entertainment value. With 27 goals from 30 matches this season, Stoke are the second-lowest scorers in the Premier League, behind Queens Park Rangers.

It is a problem Pulis has never been able to resolve in the Premier League, where Stoke's record of 181 goals in 182 games tells its own story. Things looked brighter in the 2010-11 season, when Matthew Etherington was playing out of his skin on one flank and Jermaine Pennant wreaking havoc on the other wing, but Stoke have reverted to type over the past couple of years, struggling to penetrate despite spending heavily, including £10m on Peter Crouch, a deal Coates had reservations about at the time.

There have been other expensive mistakes in the transfer market, one of the reasons behind the recent appointment of Mark Cartwright as technical director. A former goalkeeper and football agent, Cartwright will oversee player recruitment, with Pulis having the final say on signings. Cartwright has spoken about the importance of bringing in players with "the [Stoke] identity but, technically and ability-wise, try to move to that next level".

When it comes to the team's style of play, which has often been criticised, Stoke are clearly not as one-dimensional as they were during their first season in the Premier League, as Opta's statistics underline. In 2008-09 Stoke made 250 passes per game, on average, the lowest in the division. That figure has improved every season, up to an average of 326 in the current campaign, which suggests Stoke are evolving. But here's the catch: even allowing for the improvement, Stoke have finished every Premier League season with the lowest number of passes. This term they look like being 19 out of 20, with Reading currently below them.

Totting up the total number of passes is neither a barometer for success – this season's top three would read Arsenal, Swansea and Liverpool if it came down to how many times a player passed to a team-mate – nor an entertainment gauge, but at the very least it points to a certain style of play encouraged by the manager. What does it say about Stoke, though, if as well as making few passes they struggle to register many attempts on goal and rarely score?

In this season and each of the previous four, Stoke have had the fewest shots on goal of any team in the Premier League. When it comes to putting the ball in the net, of the 13 clubs that have played in the Premier League in all five seasons since 2008, only Stoke have failed to average a goal per game. As for the source of Stoke's goals over that period, more than half have arrived via set pieces, with this season's dependence on dead-balls (59%) higher than ever. Stoke have scored 11 league goals in open play this season.

How Stoke play and whether or not they score a bucketload of goals matters little to some supporters, it seems, when results are steady but, as the past few weeks have illustrated, if wins become draws and draws turn into defeats, the football served up at the Britannia Stadium is harder to tolerate and the criticisms people make from the outside are not so easily ignored. For some, in particular those at Stoke who were opposed to Pulis returning from day one, the frustration has been bubbling away for a while and waiting to come to the surface.

Whatever happens over the remainder of the season, it is extremely difficult to imagine Coates deciding in the summer that it is time for a change. A much more likely scenario is that Pulis, who has a one-year rolling contract, will make that decision himself, not because he is frustrated with working with Coates – a man for whom he has great respect and classes as a genuine friend – but because the fourth-longest serving manager in the Premier League realises that he has taken Stoke City as far as he can and he could do with a break.