West Ham United v Stoke City

We woke Preview Percy up early for this week's look at Stoke City. No reason. We just wanted to annoy him......

Next up it's Stoke at home for a Saturday 3pm kick-off. Marvellous. Transport news is that the C2C line between Upminster & Pitsea will be closed with diversions via Tilbury and bus replacements being the order of the day. In town the Met and part of the Jubilee will be out of action and, on the roads, I predict that someone will probably have a flat tyre somewhere blocking two out of three lanes and subsequently nauseing up any plans you had for a pre-match plate of pie & mash.

The visitors currently sit in 10th place with 42 points from their 31 matches played so far. If that sounds familiar it should do as we currently sit in 9th place with 42 points from the 31 we've played so far. We are currently able to lord it over them from on high, well slightly higher anyway, by virtue of our +2 goal difference bettering their -4. It's been a while since we had a positive goal difference this late in the season. I would tell you how long ago it was but I'm not nearly brave enough to ask the work experience girl with an inappropriate number of rings through her lips to go and find out.

Their latest outing saw them go down 2-1 to Chelsea in a match notable for Charlie Adam's remarkable long distance effort, which was so far out from goal that when the ball landed in the back of the net it was arrested on suspicion of being an illegal immigrant. Last weekend's MOTD prompted the inevitable spate of comparisons to goals of yesteryear from distance, including Rooney's effort against us, the footage of which had been sneakily edited so as not to show the shove into Tomkins' back that gave him the chance to shoot anyway. Anyhow neither of them held a candle to Ronnie Boyce's effort at Maine Road back in the 1970's.

They are managed by Mark Hughes whose input has seen him rewarded with a new contract until 2019 (or 2018 if you believe the club's subsequently corrected twitter account). For all that there is still more than a whiff of Tony Pulis about the manner in which they play - Adams's goal at the weekend must be one of the few they have scored this season that didn't involve what commentators euphemistically refer to as "The Dark Arts" - a phrase they prefer to the more prosaic but undoubtedly more accurate description of "cheating". Like Palace (another Pulis alma mater) they do love a spot of holding and blocking at corners and if you happen to be on the end of a wall at a free kick the chances of you still being in that position by the time the kick is taken are pretty minimal. Pulis may be gone but his influence lives on.

At this point one usually writes an in-depth analysis of any new signings that might have arrived during the latest transfer window. Ok I have a look at the more interesting signings anyway. Only in this case when I asked the work experience girl with an inappropriate number of rings through her lips how many players had come in her answer was "none"- plus a loan.

The loan signing was Phillipp Wollscheid, a German centre half who came in from Bayer Lederhosen - though he was well down the pecking order at the aspirin manufacturers and had spent much of his time on loan at Mainz. A leading German sportswriter referred to him as "big - but not going to put the fear of God into anyone". Good job they still have Shawcross for that then.

They did shed three players mind. Maurice Edu had made but a solitary appearance in his 3 years or so on the books in the Potteries and much of his time as a Stoke "player" was spent on loan, firstly in Turkey with Bursaspor and then for most of 2014 back in his native USA where he played for that well known Railroad Company Philadelphia Union in MLS. His deal in Philadelphia was made permanent in January.

They also offed Brek Shea, who must have been mystified at the number of people asking if he was ready while he was here, who also went back to the States to play for 1960's kid's TV programme Orlando. Ryan Shotton must be kicking himself as his transfer only got him as far as Derby.

So who is left then? Well the aforementioned skipper Ryan Shawcross is still there on shoving and kicking duties. When I were a youngster it was the Italians who had the reputation for being the dirty continentals who were full of those nasty niggly tricks. Now much of that reputation was deserved - though admittedly there would have been embellishment by the more xenophobic parts of the UK press. However, some of that reputation remains, thanks (at least in part) to the likes of Roma who appear to be interested in signing Shawcross, no doubt for his silky skills and ball control.

Top scorer is Jonathan Walters who, as I may have mentioned in the past, shares a name with a particularly annoying whiney snivelling little Herbert who lived in the same street as me when I was a kid all those years ago in the days of The Light Programme and the Home Service. This is definitely not the same person.

Apart from considerations of age, had my erstwhile neighbour missed a penalty and scored two own goals in a match as Walters did a couple of years ago against Chelsea he'd have gone running along to his Mum in the same way that he used to whenever he got hit by a ball. Walters was once described by Tony Pulis as "my kind of player", an accolade which was, apparently, taken as a compliment.

Their attacking options have been a bit limited by the knee ligament injury sustained by Peter Odemwingie, whose attempt to join QPR a few years ago became the stuff of football legend as they left him sat in his car and pretended to be out after somehow he'd got the impression that there was a deal on the table to sign him from West Brom. Since, clearly, no club managed by Henry Redknapp would ever get itself embroiled in the making of an illegal approach, quite how the player ever got the impression that he was wanted at Loftus Road must, I suppose, remain a mystery

Another option up front is Mame Biram Diouf who arrived in the close season from Hannover 96. The Senegalese striker has been about a bit and first pitched up on these shores in 2009 when he signed for Man Utd. Well sort of. They immediately loaned the player back to the Norwegian lot from who they signed him, admitting that they'd signed the player in that manner with the principal aim of preventing anyone else buying him, having heard that a few other clubs were interested. Good work that agent!

In the end he ended up with only a handful appearances for Salford after spending more time out on loan with Blackburn. He turned up four days late without explanation for his wedding, something that was blamed on his best man. If only my best man had done that for me - I'd probably still be in the pub now, which for all the expense, would probably have been cheaper than the divorce. And the hangover headache would have been infinitely less painful than that nagging noise I got in my ear all those years.

They can also call on the services of Victor Moses, who, at the last count, is one of the 1,961 players that Chelsea have out on loan at the moment. Consequently, Moses missed last weekend's defeat to the racists due to being "loan-tied". Moses first came to prominence playing for Palace, who flogged him in what was something of a fire sale to Wigan. You wouldn't have thought he would have been the sort of player to attract the attention of Abrahamovic's money laundering project but Chelsea made four bids before coming to an agreement to buy the player in 2012. That would have been an interesting set of negotiations - Abrahamovic's henchmen against Whelan and his cronies. All, I am sure completely above board and straight with all fees and taxes being properly registered and paid.

Since then Moses spent a season on loan not playing for Liverpool - a bit of shame because they like a diver up there - but he is at least getting selected by Stoke, though that's probably not what he was thinking of when he pitched up at the Stamford Bridge Used Player Lease & Hiring Co.

Us? Well last weekend never has the old adage about taking your chances been more spot on. Started badly and could have been a couple down before we woke up and the equaliser was well merited and for a long spell we looked as if we might bury them. Of course if you miss that many chances there's always a chance that you'll end up paying for them and that's exactly what happened.

Of course the result prompted the usual polarised arguments from both sides of the Sam debate and, much like the recent election debate, although many millions of words have been spoken or posted on the forum, nobody said anything new.

On the injury front we're now down to the two long term injuries to Tomkins and Carroll as Valencia should be fit following his mug-induced trauma, which, if the editor adds an "daft injury of the season" category to the end of term awards, will be a shoe-in to take the coveted golden bedpan or whatever it is that the trophy will be.

We need a bit of a pick-me up if the season is not to peter out. I rather fancy that this one will be something of a repeat of the Sunderland match in that the opposition will be hard to break down. Chances are likely to be few and far between so it'll be vitally important that we take them as and when they arrive - unlike last week. Given all that I'll still go for the optimistic win and stick the traditional ?2.50 that us inmates at the Avram Grant Olympic Rest Home For The Bewildered have been able to liberate from our pensions now that the rules have changed on a 1-0 home win.

Enjoy the game!

When last we met at The Boleyn: Lost 0-1 (August 2013) An 82nd minute free kick awarded for a dive was converted by Pennant with an assist from Shawcross who barged into the defensive wall to provide the necessary gap. That was quite literally all that happened in a dreadful match.

Danger Man: Victor Moses - trick cove with a line in "simulation".

Referee: Roger East Given that we keep getting the same rubbish time and time again it's odd that this is the first time we've had this one since we beat Cardiff 3-2 in a League Cup match back in September 2013 .

Daft Fact Of The Week:Stoke is often known as "The Five Towns" despite the fact that the city is actually a confederation of SIX towns. The confusion is said to result from the reference in Arnold Bennett's work "Anna Of The Five Towns", and not, as might have been thought, due to the preponderance of individuals who have an extra digit on each hand. The extra digit is, incidentally, often webbed, which is why everyone up there calls everyone "duck".

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