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Stoke City v West Ham United

Filed: Friday, 15th December 2017
By: Preview Percy

If Dickens hadn't already beaten Preview Percy to it we are pretty sure that the grumpy one would have invented the phrase "Bah Humbug!" Here he takes time out from shouting abuse at carol singers to have a look at this weekend's visit to Stoke.....

Next we potter to the Potteries where we will be hosted by Stoke City. Kick off is at 3pm and at time of writing there are no engineering works in that neck of the woods, though the usual shenanigans abound in the Chadwell Heath area to make your journey just that tiny bit more irritating. Check before you leave etc.

So Stoke. They are currently residing in 15th spot with 16 points from the 17 they’ve played so far. So a win for us this weekend would see us leap-frog them. Do kids still play leap frog? Or is it all done on smartphones? Most recently they faced Burnley against whom they lost 1-0 after somehow losing 5-1 at Wembley to Spurs. So not the greatest of weeks for them.

Not that you would be able to discern that there was anything wrong from the countenance of manager Mark Hughes. I mean I bet he’s a right laugh in private company and all that but his public persona is not the jolliest at the best of times. To put it another way the phrase “Happy go lucky Mark Hughes” is not one that is in common usage. Perhaps that’s what having to travel to Stoke every day does to you. I know it depresses the hell out of me every time I go there.

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There was a bit of activity in the transfer market last summer though the work-experience kid of as yet-to-be determined gender wearing a hoodie who seems only able to communicate with some strange grunting noises says it was a little lop-sided with 12 out and only 4 in if you discount youngsters with the “one for the future” label sewn in next to their name tags. This figure was augmented by a couple of incoming loans though.

The highest profile departure from our point of view was Marko Arnautovic whose £20m fee was nearly double the total of all the other fees they received for the other 11 during the window. Many Stoke fans thought that they were getting the better of the deal and, until recently, they might have had a point. However, his recent improvement in form might just have them looking through the small print of the law of the ex that suggests a goal will be forthcoming against his old club.

The biggest fee shelled out this summer was the £18m shelled out to Spurs for Austrian defender Kevin Wimmer. Wimmer was well down the pecking order in the Spurs defence prior to his departure – 13 league starts in two seasons was the extent of his career in North London. However, he had a start to his Potters career described in the local press as “ropey” with some journals even going as far to suggest that Wimmer was the “worst signing of the season”. Whatever your view Wimmer is being held largely responsible for the fact that Stoke have, at time of writing, let in more goals than anyone else in the league.

The next biggest fee paid was the £7m that went to Porto for defender Bruno Martins Indi. He’s hardly a new face to them having spent last season there on loan. At the end of last season he expressed his preference for staying at Stoke once his loan was up. However, though the feeling was clearly mutual on the part of Hughes, the negotiations between the two clubs and the players were a bit tricky. Must be something to do with Portugal.

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At the end of the season, with no deal forthcoming the player had to pop back to the Iberian peninsula. He actually spent the pre-season training season running up and down whatever Porto’s equivalent of Epping Forest is with their first team until whatever wrinkles there were with the deal were ironed out with the player returning to Stoke in August.

Born in Portugal to a Portuguese mum and a Guinea-Bissauan dad the family upped sticks to The Netherlands when he was a matter of months old and, having spent all his life in that part of the world he understandably opted for the Netherlands when it came to choosing between the three options available to him. Which, of course, allows me to inform you that he is the proud owner of no fewer than 34 Dutch Caps in an international career that has stopped and started a bit.

His most active international year was 2014 when he made 14 appearances. However, from 2012-2017 his appearances have been a bit sporadic to the point that he made none at all in 2016 though he returned to the fold this year to pick up two more caps. He’s currently sidelined with a groin problem though which, apparently, is serious enough to keep him out of the first XI until February.

Up front they picked up the splendidly-named Jean-Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting on an end of contract freebie from Schalke. The signing took place on 7 August, though given the number of documents that players have to sign as part of the transfer protest they were probably lucky to get it snuck in before the window closed. Chipping Norton’s day in the sun so far this season has been the brace of goals he picked up in their 2-2 draw against Moan Utd. However he has just the three so far this season, which could explain why we are seeing a fair bit of Peter Crouch in the league at the moment.

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The two loan signings were defender Kurt Zouma who came in on a year’s deal from Chelsea (of course) and Striker Jese who is on the books with Chelsea’s equivalent PSG. We are unlikely to see either this weekend. Zouma picked up a hamstring in the Burnley defeat whilst Jese has been given leave of absence to go back to his home Canary Islands where his prematurely born son is battling for his life. I’m sure everyone wishes him the best with that one. Another absentee is former Hammer Glen Johnson whose transfer to Chelsea just after they were formed in 2003 managed to save the club from Administration being the first deal of the Abrahamovic era.

Enough of them. What about us us then? Another good point. Given the start to the season that we had and the way we had been playing I suspect that anyone who had predicted that we would have gotten four points out of the last 9 and that we were damned unlucky not to have got up to another three points from those games is currently being released from protective custody from a secure unit where they give you special jackets to wear with no sleeves Probably accompanied by a letter of apology and a certificate of sanity.

The midfield on Wednesday night – and the previous Saturday – reminded me of those bar football games where the players move from side to side in unison. Arsenal, like Chelsea before them, switched it from one side of the pitch to the other and across our midfield went with them. Wenger compared the match to their game with Man Utd which was, if you pardon the expression, complete and utter twaddle. From what I saw of that game they kept breaking through but found De Gea in irresistible mood. Whereas last night only one good-looking but, in retrospect, comfortable save from Adrian from a free-kick sticks in the mind.

Yes they hit the post but from our angle it looked covered. I think that the difference between them and Moan City (apart from being financed by an oil well or two. And Mike Dean) is that when we were keeping it tight City had the patience to keep trying to work the angles, patience that paid off late on when they were finally able to pick out the killer ball. Whereas on Wednesday – and indeed on Saturday – the sheer hard work put in was so frustrating from the opponents point of view that every so often they would end up taking shots from 30 yards or longer. It’s as if the frustration prompted some sort of internal “shot clock” to start ticking in the minds of the players.

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In the end, Chicharito was damned unlucky not to give us all three points, Cech allegedly getting a fingertip on the one that hit the bar towards the end. He won’t always be quite as unlucky and his return to availability is to be welcomed as we hit a run of matches that will present a different sort of challenge to both team and management. It is clear that Mr Moyes has been able to turn the team around defensively, his tactics coming up with a successful way of dealing with the billionaire teams. Now we will see if we have any system put together to use in matches where the quality of the opposition might require a more expansive type of game.

As mentioned earlier Arnautovic will be facing his old team this weekend. Expect pantomime booing from the home support when he is on the ball. However, I do have a concern with Arnie for this one. He has been rejuvenated in recent weeks and has improved game on game so he will already be buzzing a bit. However, Stoke are no shrinking violets and if anyone is going to be targeted for “special treatment” it will be Arnie.

Now I was at the “Not The Dell” earlier this season when, having had an unpunished thump to the head from one Southampton player he elected to exact his own retribution with the predictable red-card result. I would like to think that Southampton was a lesson learned. However, I’d also like to think that someone (Noble perhaps) might be taking him to one side for a quiet one in his shell-like to say “they will try and wind you up. Don’t let them” – just in case Southampton was too long ago to be fresh in the player’s memory.

Injury-wise we are down to four. Kouyate may be ready for a return to the squad – he is listed as “slight doubt” at the time of writing. Fernandes’ ankle is bad enough for there to be “no return date”, Byram’s thigh won’t be ready until the Newcastle game at the very earliest whilst Fonte will have until the end of January to work out new and amusing ways to insult his co-chairman on that there twitter thing. Other than that it’s pretty much as you were with Ginge even making a return to the bench in midweek.

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Which brings us nicely on to the subject of a prediction. As mentioned this weekend (and the following few league matches) will present a different sort of challenge and it’s a big ask to adapt from one sort of shape to another. Confidence will be high – and rightly so after the last three games and I did give serious consideration to placing this week’s wager on an away win. However, you will gather that I am not one to be reckless with these £2.50s that I shell out every week and my bunions ache just enough to make me err on the side of a draw. So, Mr Winstone, this week’s £2.50 which I had originally earmarked to chip in towards Mourinho’s dry cleaning bill will be going on honours even. 2-2 I reckon.

Enjoy the game!

When last we met at not the Victoria Ground: Drew 0-0 (Premier League April 2017)

Not as bad as it sounds. Not a classic either. Butland had a superb first half to keep Ayew at bay whilst Adrian had a superb second half keeping some chap called Arnautovic at bay.

Referee: Graham Scott

A relative newcomer to the ranks of the Select Group he will find it infinitely more difficult to get removed from the ranks than he did to join them. Only refereed one of our matches – last season’s 3-1 win at Southampton. Hopefully an omen but don’t count on it.

Danger Man: Peter Crouch

If he has no control over his arms and legs what chance does our defence have?

Percy’s Poser:

Last week we asked you what Gary Lineker’s twitter response was to Piers Morgan’s taunt that he had been “nothing but a goal hanger” during his career. Congratulations to Mrs Adelaide Housemaid’s-Knee of Dovercourt who responded “Lineker’s response was short and sweet. He merely replied “Better a goal-hanger than a phone-hacker.

For this week’s poser we ask a really easy one: What connects Stoke with the Maltese Post Office? A chunk of last year’s Christmas pudding for the first name out of the digital hat with the correct answer.

Good luck!

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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