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Stoke City v West Ham United

Filed: Thursday, 27th April 2017
By: Preview Percy

Funnily enough we too have been visited by representatives from HM Revenue & Customs this week. Apparently it all stems from a misunderstanding caused by his belief that Canvey Island was a tax-haven. Here's his look at the weekend's trip to Stoke, prepared just before he went into hiding.....

Next we venture to the Potteries where we will be hosted by Stoke City at what has now been a rebranded stadium. Regular readers will know my views on sponsored stadium names. One can make the odd exception as with the building society-named Britannia stadium which at least sounds as if it’s got a proper name. The new moniker is named after some sort of rival to Winstone The Turf Accountants. So, until something better comes along I will refer to the place as “Stoke’s Ground”.

Kick-off is the traditional 3pm on Saturday. No engineering works on the way up there though those of you feeling nostalgic for a few weeks ago will be delighted to find that the main line out of Liverpool Street will be shut again if that’s your preferred route into London. Check before you leave I’d say.

So, the Potters, then. Slap bang mid table with 39 points from 34 games. A point and three places above us. Their current form is indifferent – one win and five defeats in their last six. Last weekend they went down 2-0 at Swansea, a result that might have been different had Arnautovic not converted his penalty in the style of rugby rather than of the association game he happened to be playing at the time. There was a sense of justice about the result of the spot kick – during the build up to the penalty incident Arnautovic had been so far offside he had to use a turnstyle to get back on to the field of play.

The work experience girl wearing the Guns N’ Roses t-shirt without knowing who they are tells me that, technically speaking, they made just the two signings during the last window. I say “technically” as goalkeeper Lee Grant had actually been on loan at the club since last summer. The experienced custodian (over 500 league & cup appearances since 2002) originally pitched up back in August on loan as Jack Butland struggled to recover from the broken ankle he sustained playing for England. The highly-rated Butland ended up requiring further surgery on the injury he picked up as long ago as March 2016. However, all being well for Butland, he should be available to start against us on Saturday having made his long-awaited comeback last weekend in Wales.

The second transfer was slightly more interesting. Saido Berahino arrived in January for a reported fee of £12m with add-ons potentially increasing that figure to £15m. This was less than the bid of £17m (rising to £20m) that both Stoke and Palace had rejected by West Brom back in the summer. It’s fair to say that neither West Brom nor Berahino were too sad at the parting of the ways. Relations between player and club had been ever so slightly strained since Spurs put in an offer for the player in 2015. The bid was rejected whereupon the player put in a transfer request, which was also rejected. An unauthorised interview followed in which Berahino said that he would never play for the club again whilst chairman Peace was still in charge. This resulted in a fine and a suspension for the player.

A subsequent return to something approaching decent form occurred but his copy book was further blotted when he attributed this to his desire to join a “bigger” club. Since that time Berahino has single-handedly given Sky something to talk about during their increasingly hyperbolic coverage of transfer deadline day, which is not nearly as much fun since they stopped spotty teenagers from displaying their acne and shouting obscenities whilst standing behind whichever poor sod of a presenter is having to stand outside a training ground in the vain hope of spotting Lionel Messi through the windows of a blacked-out 4X4 on his way to Walsall.

Sky must have been distraught when Berahino finally got his wish to leave the Hawthorns but things didn’t stop there. By quirk of the fixture computer Stoke and West Brom were down to play each other straight after the window shut. At which point somebody, and nobody is admitting who, let it slip that, during one of the spells where Berahino had been absent from the team supposedly at a training camp in France under instruction to lose weight, the player had in fact been serving a suspension following a positive drug test for a “recreational drug”. The player offered the standard claim that he had been the victim of having his drink spiked.

When such tests are taken out of competition, for example at training sessions, the results and any subsequent bans are anonymised in the records. The player is banned from “all football activity” for a specified period. This includes visiting the training ground. Incidentally I can think of at least one former England captain who had a mystery “groin strain” that kept him out of club football for 6 months at precisely the same time as the official listing showed his club as having a player under suspension. The player’s autobiography clears it up nicely though – apparently the injury was so depressing that he couldn’t face going to the training ground. To this day, though most people in football know the truth the details have never officially been confirmed and nobody has broken ranks to make the situation public. Which is why it was odd that news of Berahino’s ban was all over the place just days before West Brom and Stoke were due to meet.

Mark Hughes was in no doubt where the leak came from, dropping heavy hints that Pulis had been responsible, something that Pulis, who I can quite legally refer to as a liar following that little spot of bother he had with Palace, denied. As if there wasn’t enough on his plate it was announced a few weeks back that the Charities Commission would be examining a foundation the player set up to provide funds to Water Aid, who had pointed out that they had to date received £0.00 following a charity dinner. I would say “it never rains” but the good people at Water Aid would probably not see the funny side.

Whatever the ins and outs of it all it’s fair to say that Berahino hasn’t come anywhere near the form that gained him England international recognition all the way up the age ladder, stopping short of full honours. He’s yet to find the back of the net since his move up the M6.

Top slot of their goalscoring charts is shared by Joe Allen and Marko Arnautovic, both of whom have netted half a dozen times this season. Allen is one of the players in the Welsh squad who is actually Welsh and, I am informed, he speaks fluent Welsh, not that anyone would be any the wiser either way. In fact I remain convinced that Welsh as a language doesn’t really exist and that it was just a way of cheating at Scrabble that got a bit out of hand.

They will also be able to call on Peter Crouch who has been chipping in with the odd goal here and there. He's made the starting line-up of late despite it previously being thought that he was only being kept on at Stoke to help with the Christmas decorations.

There's a chance of a return for journeyman-who-weighs-in-with-goals-from-time-to-time Jon Walters. The mark of such a player is often that they play for the Republic Of Ireland despite being born in England and Walters is straight from central casting in that respect. He's had a knee problem and is listed as "slight doubt" in the usual places.

Us. Well it’s been an interesting week. The taxman went into overkill mode over a few transfers us and the Geordies entered into with Marseilles. Now I know a little about tax. Hell I may even have inadvertently paid some once. So you’ll pardon me if I stifle a bit of a yawn over the whole thing. £5m? When everyone knows where the real issues are in football (clue head North West)? And as for that OTT press statement to the effect that HMRC were “sending out a message to clubs that they wouldn’t be allowed to get away with things”, well call me old-fashioned but whatever happened to that thing about innocent until proved guilty? It was a typically crass statement probably from a jobsworth, star struck at having being able to look at someone famous. Wouldn’t surprise me if they were a referee in their spare time.

On the pitch we finally broke the Lukaku curse. In fact I wonder if all those police in hi-vis jackets at the Olympic the other day were actually leading a search party of the striker, who was last seen at 3pm last Saturday before going missing. It was a strange game in that there were good performances all over the place. Nordveidt in particular had a good game after an initial – and understandable- rustiness.

Injury news is that Carroll won’t make this one, despite murmurings to the contrary last week. Calleri was disappointing enough last week to suggest that Sakho might be given his first start since coming back from injury. Of the others not involved last week both Snodgrass and Feghouli face fitness tests – one or both may make the squad. The Skipper will be available after his referee-induced fortnight off.

Prediction then. Well we have improved of late and they aren’t exactly at their best. However it can be a difficult place to go on occasion so I will be placing the £2.50 I was going to pay my tax bill with (like pelicans, HMRC can stick their bills up their backsides as far as I am concerned) on a 1-1 draw, just as soon as it gets warm enough for me to go out to Winstone The Turf Accountants.

Enjoy the game!

When Last We Met At [Insert name of whatever you want to call their ground]: Lost 2-1 (Premier League May 2016) After all the drama and emotion of the Boleyn’s last game this was a bit of a disappointment. Antonio put us 1-0 up. Goals from Imbula and Diouf gave the hosts an undeserved all three points.

Referee: Lee Probert – I’d forgotten about him. Only recently returned to refereeing after injury. At least they say he was injured. I suspect he was taken back to PGMOL HQ’s laboratories for “reprogramming”

Danger Man: Marko Arnautovic – by virtue of his being top scorer

Percy’s Poser: Last week we asked you what is it that Everton were allegedly the first to do in the 1880s that every club now does as a matter of routine? First correct answer out of the digital hat this week came from Mrs Margaret Ting of Margaretting who told us that Everton are reputed to be the first club to have produced a regular matchday programme. Mrs Ting tells me that it was printed on foolscap paper and cost a whole farthing. However it isn’t known if there was an accompanying sticker album that omitted one of their greatest players. Mrs Ting wins a years supply of kumb-cash which expired 30 seconds ago. Well done – and hard luck Margaret!

For this week’s poser we ask you: Why was Spike Milligan sacked in 1982 from an ambassadorial role from Stoke’s Keele University. First correct answer out of the digital hat will win an oatcake. Or perhaps something to eat if you prefer.

Good luck everyone!

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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