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Stoke City v West Ham United

Filed: Thursday, 16th September 2010
By: Preview Percy

Top Gear has "The Stig". We have Preview Percy. I wonder if Clarkson would entertain a swap deal....

Next up we face a trip up the motorways to face Stoke City at the Britannia Stadium for a 12:45 kick-off in a match that will be shown live on Sky.

Stoke currently lie two places and three points above us in 18th spot. The Potters' results up to Monday night were fairly similar to ours. They lost away at Wolves on the opening day and followed that match up with a slightly unfortunate defeat to Spurs at home. Having ignored a foul in the build up, the ref decided that the ball hadn't crossed the line from a late header, despite being in perfect position to see that it had done so. The usual arguments for goal-line technology followed but frankly when something is that obvious to an official and he still misses it, I'm not sure I'd trust an employee of the Professional Game Match Officials organisation to press the right button on the recording machine without accidentally recording EastEnders all over the vital moment.

Their three points to date came on Monday night following their somewhat controversial win at home to Villa. Their late winner followed one of the worst dives you could ever wish to see from Jermaine “Tag Boy” Pennant. Pennant has spells at both Arsenal and Liverpool on his CV so his unsteadiness came as no surprise to anyone, except obviously ref Probert, who was so shocked that he compounded his original error by allowing Stoke to take the free kick miles away from where the original, er, “offence” had allegedly taken place.

They were reasonably active in the window with five plus a loan in and five plus two loans out. In the arrivals lounge were Pennant, a loan from Real Zaragoza, Marc Wilson, an alleged Hammers target from Pompey, Eidur Gudjonsen from Monaco, Jonathan Walters from Ipswich, Kenwyne Jones from Sunderland and 'keeper Carlo Nash from Everton. Jones, for whom Stoke paid £8m, will be familiar to Hammers fans from his Mackem days. In one match at the Boleyn few seasons ago he came off the bench and caused mayhem in the defence. In subsequent matches the defence managed to keep him fairly quiet but he still made an impression, getting sent off for a shove into the face of Herita Ilunga in our match at the Stadium of Light. Jones is likely to be more of a threat with his current employers, whose “unsophisticated” approach to the game is right up his street.

Eidur Gudjonsen is another familiar name, having been linked with us during virtually every transfer window for the last five years. That he wasn't linked with us during the last window owes much to the fact that SuGo got rather cheesed off with the way he messed us about during the previous one before electing to sit on the bench at Spurs for a few months.

No preview of our opponents would be complete without a mention of Rory Delap whose throw-ins cause so much excitement amongst the home support. So much so, that a throw-in at the Britannia Stadium is greeted with louder applause than a corner. Delap has a willing target in Jones, which, given the fact that we struggled last week in the air against the relatively diminutive Essien, could be something of a worry. Delap was at the centre of an hilarious kerfuffle between Lucas Neill and a ball boy a few years ago, Neill eventually winning the argument by stopping Delap from using the towels dotted around the pitch in preparation for his party trick.

Another source of high balls into the box is former Hammers winger Matty Etherington who is enjoying a new lease of life in the Potteries, having apparently put his personal and gambling issues behind him. Received wisdom suggests that Etherington retreats into his shell if he gets a kick in the first few minutes of a match from the opposition right back, so it'll be interesting to see how the side copes now that we actually have a right-back. Prior to Jacobsen's arrival, the previous specialist in that position was the aforementioned Neill, who certainly wasn't above dishing out an early “reminder” to Etherington when last he faced the winger whilst wearing the claret and blue. It remains to be seen whether Jacobsen's card will have been similarly marked.

Apart from Jones and Ilunga there will be another rematch that owes little to the laws of the game. In the corresponding match last season Matthew Upson was minding his own business at a set piece when he was felled by a rather cowardly punch from German defender Robert Huth, who crept up and decked the skipper from behind. The punch resulted in a deserved three-match ban for the Stoke player who, when confronted with the rather damning video evidence wisely elected not to contest the charge of violent conduct.

So what of us. Well we've already mentioned our frailty in the air as displayed last week against Chelsea and we'll draw a discreet veil over that second goal. Selection wise, we'll probably be without Hitzlesperger again, though some sources suggest that Gabbidon may have recovered enough to be available for at least a spot on the bench. The big question will be the central defensive pairing. Like Avram Grant, Tal Ben-Haim will be absent due to his observance of the Jewish Yom Kippur religious holiday. This leaves one of Gabbidon, Reid, Tomkins or DaCosta to play alongside Upson. Personally this is not a match that I'd select for Tomkins to use to repair his apparently fragile confidence. Similarly, I'd rather someone with a bit more experience than Reid start this one and, with Gabbidon possibly a doubt, I'd plump for DaCosta to come in.

In midfield Berrera is likely to come into contention having missed out last week in recovery from two matches in a week for Mexico. Up front, the form of Carlton Cole is causing some concern – well to me anyway. The player who, this time last season, seemed to be progressing well under the watchful eye of Zola, seems to have forgotten much of what he learned. Time and time again last week he would lose the ball when played up to him and it may be time to consider the viability of the selection policy that currently reads “Cole plus one of.....”

This match will be equally as tough as last week's was supposed to be – we are unlikely to receive the respite of them trying to play an awful lot of football and their general attitude to the game can be gleaned from their attitude to the skilful Tuncay, who failed to make an appearance on Monday night. The Villa result, will see them with their tails up – any doubts about the legitimacy of the goal will be forgotten. The emotional boost gained from the background to the match, given the sad loss of Pulis' mother in the run-up, should also not be underestimated.

So with a perfectly bad record, and a tough match to follow is there any shaft of light at the end of the tunnel? Well strangely I believe there is – but there is a caveat. For long spells on Monday Villa played football and ought to have wrapped the match up well before half time. That they didn't do so is largely down to poor finishing which they lived to regret in the second half. That too has been part of our problem. The match against Bolton should have been over by half time and even against Chelsea there were opportunities – Obinna and Piquionne in particular ought to be devastated that they didn't open their accounts.

I'm going to plump for a 1-1 draw on this one – optimistic maybe but you gotta have faith as George Michael used to say. Whatever happened to him?

Enjoy the game!

Last Season: Lost 2-1 - Beattie's pair, the first a penalty following an Etherington dive, came either side of Upson's equaliser in a match in which we were probably worth a point.

Danger Man: Rory Delap - Given our recent frailties in defence, their one “tactic” is just what we don't want to see this week.

Referee: Lee Mason – We only had him once last season, in the 1-0 defeat at Birmingham in which he sent off Mark Noble for two yellows. Mason is described as a “turkey” in one leading referee's discussion forum. Then again the members of the same forum think Mike Dean is our best ref so make of that what you will.

Local Tip: - There's virtually nowhere close by to the Britannia in which to get a drink. There is a Harvester across the road which gets jam packed on match days. If you're going to drink in there get arrive really early and sort yourself out a table in the restaurant bit – that way you'll get waitress service for whatever drinks you get with your grub.

Daft Fact of The Day: - Stoke's old stadium, The Victoria Ground, was actually named after the sponge cake and not the monarch.

(Note this may not actually be true but the page on the local authority's website headed up “Interesting facts about Stoke” turned out to contain nothing of the sort so I made one up).

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 Aussie Al
07:52AM 17th Sep 2010
''Enjoyable pre-match write-up, as ever! Just a point about the pubs; avoid the Britannia as there are two pubs 5mins walking distance...cross the dual-carriageway on the over-bridge and bear right....Locals were friendly last year!''

by Serbian Hammer
07:08AM 17th Sep 2010
''Great read!''

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