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West Ham United v Stoke City - Match Preview

Filed: Tuesday, 26th October 2010
By: Preview Percy

Paul The Psychic Octopus is sadly no longer with us. Preview Percy is in rude health however, despite the fact that we've stuck him in a fish tank. (Nothing to do with predictions - we just don't like him much). Here's his look at this week's League Cup match against the Potters......

Next we entertain Stoke City in the 4th round of the League Cup. Kick-off is 7:45pm.

This fixture – particularly in the League Cup – brings back memories of the epic 1972 semi-final tie. In the second replay at Old Trafford, Hammers' 'keeper Bobby Ferguson went off after a challenge from Stoke's Conroy that would have seen him arrested and doing time had it happened today. There were no multiple substitutions in those days and, in fact, after ages of treatment both on and off the pitch Ferguson came back on – though he was so concussed that he remembers nothing of the match to this day. Whilst Ferguson was trying to work out what planet he was on, the usual emergency stand-in 'keeper, Clyde Best, froze. Overawed by the occasion, the big fellah simply couldn't do it. At which point, without further ado, Bobby Moore picked up the goalkeeper's shirt and took over. He saved a penalty too – though the rebound was put away by Mike Bernard. Conroy, who shouldn't have been on the pitch, eventually got the winner in a 3-2 victory, with Stoke going on to lift the cup, beating Chelsea in the final. There will of course, be no repetition in this tie, extra time and penalties being available in the event of level scores after 90/120 minutes as applicable.

This season, for what it's worth, Stoke have won three, drawn one and lost two of their last six. The draw came at home to ourselves where we bossed the first half but they came back strongly in the second. Their last outing came on Sunday where they went down 2-1 to Man Utd. Hernandez's sublime opening header was followed by the sight of Gary Neville inexplicably remaining on the pitch for the remainder of the opening period after upending former Hammer Matty Etherington twice. The fact that Neville himself thought he might just have been lucky to stay on should tell you all you need to know about that decision. Neville actually appeared for the second half before Fergie realised that you need to take a player off before bringing another on. However, given Clattenburg's leniency with Neville, it would have come as no surprise had he allowed Man Utd to take the field with twelve players for the second period. Or thirteen if you count Clattenburg himself.

The visitors reached this round of the cup following two home wins, against Shrewsbury (2-1) and against Fulham (2-0). The latter tie was notorious for the tackle made by the home side's Andy Wilkinson on Fulham's Moussa Dembele which saw the Belgian stretchered off, though thankfully the damage wasn't the broken leg that was first feared. This prompted reactions from Mark Hughes (“ridiculous tackle”) and, more recently Danny Murphy who, named Stoke, alongside Blackburn and Wolves, as the sort of team that sends out players “so pumped up that inevitably there are going to be problems”.Whatever the rights and wrongs of the argument on tackles, it is fair to say that Murphy got it spot on with Stoke's basic tactics, those being to stop the opposition playing. Pretty it ain't but that won't worry the Stoke faithful as long as it keeps them in the Premiership. Their attitude to the game can be divined by the treatment of the scorer of their (superb) goal at the weekend, Tuncay. Arguably their most gifted player, he has made but three appearances in the league this season, all of those coming from the bench. He has started both League Cup matches though. Rumour has it that he is not totally happy with the situation – he has been known to turn around and go straight home on matchdays if not in the squad.

They have nigh on a full squad available for this one, with only long term casualties Fuller (recurrence of a shoulder injury) and Sidibe (calf/shin) looking like being ruled out through injury. In the last round at least, they put out a pretty strong side. Begovic deputised in goal for Sorenson and Delap's arms were given a rest but the remainder of the starting line-up were all payers with first team experience.

Up front the line is likely to be led by Kenwyne Jones. As I mentioned in my preview for the league match last month, Jones caused havoc in our defence a few seasons ago whilst playing for Sunderland, though in subsequent matches he's been less of a problem. He's found the back of the onion bag four times this season, most recently in the 2-1 win up at Newcastle last month. It may come as a surprise that all four of his goals this season have been headers. But probably not.

In the absence of Fuller, Jones has been partnered of late by Jonathan Walters who came in during the close season from Ipswich Town. Walters has found the net twice this season, getting the winner in the 1-0 win over Blackburn Rovers (for some reason I didn't bother to Sky+ that one) and the first in the 2-1 win over Shrewsbury in the second round. It ought to have been three but for his effort in the home match against Spurs being ruled out for only being three feet over the line. You can see why Pulis and his chairman are showing almost Mick McCarthy levels of refereeing paranoia.

And what of us? Well Saturday was disappointing in so many ways. I'm not sure whether the apparent change of system was one deliberately put in place by Avram Grant or whether it was a case of the selected players not playing the previously successful 4-4-2 as instructed. Either way it didn't work. The first 20 minutes or so apart we spent far too much time dropping back, giving the initiative to the opposition. This was a crying shame as, in the opening period when we took the game to the opposition, we were playing some good stuff. Unfortunately, having conceded the equaliser, we failed to regain the momentum. The passing went pear-shaped and the lack of holding ability between midfield and attack was alarming.

The disruption caused by injuries didn't help – though the rot had set in well before Upson and Piquionne limped off. Upson's departure was caused by a problem with his hamstring and I'd hope that if there is any doubt whatsoever as to his fitness he would sit this one out. Hamstrings are tricky coves and they have a habit of going time and time again if not allowed to recover. Early indications are that the club expects him to be fit for Arsenal away on Saturday and an evening off will only help in that respect. Piquionne seemed to land awkwardly on Saturday – possibly jarring his knee - and I'd expect him to sit this one out as well – which would probably mean a start for Benni McCarthy. In defence, Jacobsen will not be available as he is cup-tied and not named Omoyimni. Tomkins and Ilunga will both come into contention for a start as the back four will require rearrangement.

Apart from those changes enforced by injury and admin, it's difficult to judge whether Grant will take the opportunity to make additional alterations to the side. In the past, fringe players have been given a start in this competition. However, my own preference would be to limit the changes to those for which we have no option, with some of the kids given bench time. I know we have to prioritise the league, but you only have to look at the boost gained from the away win at Sunderland in the last round to see the effect a win can have on confidence.

Predictions are a bit of a lottery at this stage. Apart from anything else, I have no idea as to how the club want to treat this competition. If we stick out a team full of kids you can see us getting bullied from pillar to (goal)post. However, if we put out the strongest team possible I remain ever hopeful that football can prevail over the style of football espoused by the visitors. With that in mind I'll go for us to win 2-1 – though extra time may be required.

Enjoy the game!

Last season (league): Lost 0-1 - a solo effort from Fuller was just about the only football in an awful match memorable mainly for the suspicious relocation of the advertising hoardings to a position a few feet outside the touchlines.

Danger Man: Rory Delap (if selected) - those throws will probably cause havoc amongst a reshuffled and confidence-lacking defence.

Referee: Howard Webb – normally one of our more reliable officials I thought he lacked consistency last season. We'll draw a veil over the World Cup final as well shall we.

Daft fact of the (mid)week: The motto of the city of Stoke-On-Trent is “Vis Unita Fortior” which translates as: “United Strength Is Stronger”. Let's hope so!

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.

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