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Stoke City v West Ham Utd

Filed: Friday, 1st May 2009
By: Preview Percy

Stoke next, up at the Britannia Stadium for a 3pm kick off.

Stoke currently lie in 12th spot, a position most Potters would surely have bitten your arm off for if they’d been offered it at the start of the season. Stoke are currently 8 points clear of Newcastle who sit in the final relegation slot and, to all intents and purposes, they can be considered safe from a return to the second tier at the end of this season.

The reason for Stoke’s lofty position can be located in their home form where they have lost only 3 of their 17 matches in the league. Nine wins and 5 draws have amassed them 32 of the 39 points they have in the bank at the moment and it appears to be illegal for TV pundits to mention the words “Stoke City” without mentioning the fact that they are “hard to beat at home”. They’ve also started to pick up points at the right time of the season when those around them, for example fellow promotees Hull City, have seen dips in form and they’ve won 3 drawn 2 and lost only one of their last six. Taking home matches only, they’ve won four and drawn two of the last six so it is clear that a tough day beckons.

Of course it’s fair to say that it’s not always been pretty. Stoke’s early season progress seemed to have an abnormal reliance on the ability of Rory Delap to launch throw after throw into the box, so much so that in one match earlier this season (Arsenal perhaps?) they saw the bizarre sight of an opposition goalkeeper deliberately play the ball out for a corner rather than risk a throw-in! However in recent weeks teams seem to have learned to deal with the much-publicised tactic and Delap seemed to be having problems with distance in last weekend’s trip to Fulham. Stoke of course are not alone in the style of football that they play and, unlike their fellow travellers up at Blackburn, there is at least a certain honesty about the way they go about their business. It’s hard to imagine, for example, Tony Pulis digging out a load of false and misleading statistics after a match in an attempt to convince the paying public that they’ve just watched a feast of fast-flowing, slick-passing football rather than 90 minutes of route one hoofing, as Sam Allardyce did after our trip up to Ewood a few weeks back. I’m sure Pulis’ response to the question “it’s not nice to watch is it?” would be “and your point is?” Which is fair enough. They have their limitations, and I’m sure they would agree that they make the most of what they’ve got.

Key to the improvement in Stoke’s fortunes in recent months has been the arrival from Sheffield United of James Beattie who has thoroughly enjoyed himself away from the stench of hypocrisy that emanates from Bramall Lane. Although he’s not yet their top scorer (that honour falls to Ricardo Fuller, of whom more later) his 6 goals put him second in the scoring chart and those goals have been pivotal in Stoke’s climb up the table, though he has yet to match the heady days of the purple patch that he hit at Southampton a few years ago. The effect of a new player’s arrival can sometimes galvanise the team far more than by the number of goals scored and this seems to have been the case with Beattie. His presence at the weekend will depend on a late fitness test on a thigh injury that kept him out of the side that went down 1-0 at the Cottage last week. Ricardo Fuller started up front in that match, now seemingly all at peace with his team-mates following the girly slap he perpetrated on skipper Griffin at the Boleyn earlier in the season in one of the funniest incidents seen in ages. Incredibly, and in a manner that would make even Gordon Brown’s spin doctors cough with embarrassment, Fuller now claims that the incident was possibly one of the best things to happen to the club this season. Maybe a quick head-butt or two to some of the other defenders early next season will see them mounting a challenge for Europe.

We will of course be up against old boy Matty Etherington., a decent – if somewhat limited at this level – performer whose time at the Boleyn seems to divide supporters. Presumably Stoke took over any financial indebtedness that Etherington might have had to the club on his departure following a couple of much-publicised bale outs arising from his gambling addiction. Someone once said of Stan Bowles (though I expect the remark may predate Bowles) “if only he could pass a bookies like he passes a ball”. Tellingly, nobody ever said that of Etherington who, on his day, could be quite useful (as long as the opposition right-back didn’t give him an early welcome present – hint to whoever is up against him on Saturday).

Another player of note is Liam Lawrence, who has put together a run of 6 consecutive games. That isn’t why he is noteworthy though. His main claim to fame this season has been his entry into the “daft injury hall of fame” when he missed vital matches having fallen base over apex over his Labrador dog. In this day and age I suppose we ought to be grateful that there was contact – Steve Gerrard’s current injury problems are believed to have been caused by a dive over next door’s Chihuahua even though they were a) away at the time and b) don’t actually own a dog in the first place.

So what about us? Well we’re still a long way short of fielding a proper first XI. Cole is at least a week short of a return, Parker may not be back at all this season and Collison is just making a return to full training. Dyer started last week, though this may have been more a function of the fact that Kovac may not have been considered ready for a return from injury. As it happened, when he finally appeared Kovac seemed to be using a sat-nav bought off a bloke in the pub for making his passes. Each Kovac pass seemed to set off on a pre-ordained path straight into touch in front of the Chicken Run, much in the same manner as those lorries that seem to end up unable to reverse in a country lane because Tom Tom’s annoying voice told them to go that way. If Kovac has returned to fitness and has started passing to team-mates rather than his imaginary friends in the bushes at Chadwell Heath, this may be the sort of game that Zola would prefer him to start instead of Dyer, especially as Dyer didn’t seem particularly comfortable in the centre midfield role last week.

Up front, unless Zola takes a punt on Boa Morte or a youngster, it looks like we’ll have to persevere with Tristan and Di Michele, both of whom have been making noises about staying beyond the end of the season. My missus has been making noises about me helping her do the ironing this weekend. I believe similar odds can be obtained on all three events occurring though you’d be daft to stitch yourself up on an accumulator – especially as I’ll be in Stoke when the ironing is due to be done.

Predictions? Well it’s hard to see where the goals are going to come from for us, especially since we seem to have forgotten how to take penalties on the rare occasion we actually get one. Stoke’s home form is also a worry, though talk of requiring another win is probably just a case of “saying the right thing”. Indeed “Fortress Britannia” does have a certain ring to it (if you forget we’re talking about a building society). However I have, as ever, got a slight glimmer of optimism. This promises to be similar to the Blackburn match and, whilst I probably stand as much chance of getting home on Saturday evening to find all the ironing done as I have of this prediction coming good, I’ll plump for a 1-1 draw as the season starts its final month.

Enjoy the game!

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.

Your Comments

by JimmyJimmy (SCFC)
06:26PM 1st May 2009
''As a Stoke fan I think this is a really well balanced/written piece. We have had a lot of bad press this season for our "style" of play, which in all honestly is results driven at the expense of flowing football. I expect to see this for a few more seasons as we consolidate our place in the Premier League and buy quality players as we progress.

West Ham is a great club and Zola a legend so I would happily take the draw now to ensue our safety and then see West Ham push on for the seventh spot.

For those travelling up to the Potteries I hope you enjoy the day...but not too much.''

by Jack Knight (SCFC)
06:15PM 1st May 2009
''Seems a fair preview. Your lads will be in for a tough game as is the manner at the Brit, but we have a few injury problems ourselves. Going to be a close one.''

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