There were so many reasons for Tony Pulis to be cheerful after Tuesday's thrilling 3-2 win over Birmingham – and I reckon the performance of Kenwyne Jones will be high on the list, writes Robbie Earle.

The £8m club record signing had suffered some criticism from supporters before the game, having failed to build on his flying start to the season in which he scored four goals in four games.

He can't have been that quiet because statistics reveal only Andy Carroll and Kevin Davies have won a greater percentage of aerial challenges than City's big number nine.

OK, so Jones didn't score on Tuesday, but there was enough in his performance for TP to give his hit-man a well deserved pat on the back.

Whether you are playing in the Premier League or Potteries Ladsandads football, all teams benefit from having an in form centre-forward, a go-to man who can get you goals to win you games.

When Stoke paid Sunderland £8m for Jones at the start of the season, there was a real sense that Pulis had acquired such a go-to player.

Jones, at his very best, can be unplayable. He has genuine athletic prowess to go with his impressive muscular frame. If you add into the mix a good touch and a decent eye for goal, it would appear he has the raw materials to be a top striker.

Jones is the type of centre-forward that one of the very big clubs is often attracted to for double the kind of money that Stoke paid for his services.

There was a feeling in media circles that, when on top of his game, Jones could be the next Didier Drogba.... a player who has the ability to lead the line with authority and presence.

Yes, the goals have dried up since that flying start at Stoke but, let's be fair, Jones has hit the woodwork and had a few near misses too – including the fiasco of Lee Cattermole's handball at Sunderland.

A record of five goals in 13 City games is perfectly respectable, so Jones might wonder why there has been any criticism of his contribution at all.

However, with a big transfer fee comes big expectations so Jones has to accept the responsibility – both positive and negative – of being the main man at the Brit.

Centre-forwards have such a huge bearing on the outcome of matches, that's why you often have to break the club's wage structure to secure their services.

We've seen in the last couple of weeks how two other teams have been galvanised by their respective centre-forwards.

Carroll (he of Jones's height and build) has had a couple of weeks terrorising the defences of Sunderland and Arsenal, thereby pushing Newcastle into the top six and himself into England recognition.

Likewise Fernando Torres's brace against Chelsea has got all Liverpool fans feeling a lot happier with life after the doom and gloom of the last few weeks.

Stoke's dramatic victory against Birmingham will have sent the fans home happy. But I have played with enough selfish centre-forwards to know they can be delighted with a win and three points, yet still be hugely disappointed not to get on the scoresheet themselves.

It is fine to say strikers should not solely be judged on the number of goals they score, or that they do so many other good things for the team, but you don't hire a gardener who can't cut the lawn.

I do not know Jones personally, but I have seen enough of him to know he has the ability to succeed at Stoke and become a very important part of Pulis's team.

That said, I also get the sense that he is one of those players who needs to be in the right frame of mind to get the best out of himself.

In his defence, Jones could argue that he hasn't been part of a settled front line yet.

True, the constant rotation of Ricardo Fuller, Tuncay, Jon Walters and even Eidur Gudjohnsen cannot help, but this is countered by the excellent service he gets from wide areas.

Jermaine Pennant and Matthew Etherington have delivered enough ammunition for even the most greedy of centre-forwards to be reasonably content.

So in Jones, Stoke have a player with genuine potential to be as good as the best in the Premier League.

But that potential – and his £8m price tag – means his every performance will continue to be scrutinised.

City's win over Birmingham gives them welcome breathing space at the start of a month which will tell us a lot about their prospects for this season.

Saturday's home game with Liverpool starts a tasty sequence which also includes a trip to West Brom and a Brit showdown with Manchester City.

Back-to-back wins could lead to a top 10 place and things would start to look rosy again for TP and his team.

However, a couple of straight defeats would give reason for concern.

This season's relegation scrap promises to be the most interesting for years because promoted teams West Brom, Blackpool and Newcastle have done enough to suggest all three of them can survive.

That does put added pressure on Stoke to preserve their top-flight status for a third successive year.

The good news, though is that they should be fine if they continue to play with the spirit and determination they showed to beat Alex McLeish's side.