Stoke City are on course to lose a massive 4.5m in the current financial year, The Sentinel can reveal today.

The club must now tighten its belt because neither its income, nor the coffers of Peter Coates, can continue to sustain such projected losses.

But the chairman, pictured, remains confident his club can still remain competitive with fellow promotion hopefuls in the summer transfer market.

Stoke's predicted losses come from high running costs already in place before Coates bought back the club from the Icelanders 12 months ago, followed by the added expenditure on loan signings and agents' fees for last season's play-off push.

Recruiting the likes of Lee Hendrie, Andy Griffin and Salif Diao, albeit with financial help from their parent clubs, substantially increased the club's wage budget, while more than 500,000 was spent on agents to facilitate many of last season's deals.

Such losses were partially offset by the sale of Michael Duberry for 800,000 in January, but the club's failure thus far to recoup any of the near 1m paid for striker Sammy Bangoura 21 months ago has burned a big hole in Stoke's spending plans.

"The club has lost a lot of money in the last year," Coates reveals in an exclusive interview, "and I have had to fund this. I envisaged when I took over that the club would lose around 3.5m in the first year.

"The reality has been somewhat worse. The year has a few weeks left and I estimate it has cost around 4.5m."

He said present attendances, though improving by 1,300 to an average of 15,749 in 2006/07, were still some way short of sustaining last season's expenditure on players.

But, in an interview to mark his first anniversary back in charge at the Britannia, he praised supporters for their part in bringing harmony back to the club.

"I feel there is more unity at the club," he said, "and it was great to see the closeness of the supporters and players at QPR, even though we ultimately failed at the final hurdle."

He re-iterated his support for manager Tony Pulis, but added: "I don't want to carry on defending him because that implies there is still an issue with him - and I strongly believe there isn't."