Considering their reputation as one of the Premier League’s most hard to beat teams it’s difficult to fathom why Stoke are still searching for their first Premier League win in 2013. Since beating Liverpool on Boxing Day the Potters have trundled through a sequence of six winless games that has put their Europa League objectives on hold. Tightening up that once impenetrable back four, which has shipped 16 goals in half a dozen matches, will be Tony Pulis’ main concern especially as they come up against in-form Reading. They showed signs of recovery against Arsenal last week and Pulis can also take solace in their record of one defeat in 12 matches at the Britannia Stadium this season. He will undoubtedly be advising his side to keep an eye on Adam Le Fondre following his heroics for Reading last month.
The Royal’s frontman came off the bench to score five goals in his last four league games, with braces at Newcastle and Chelsea earning his side four valuable points. It earned him the Player of the Month award for January and Brian McDermott, who picked up the manager’s prize, will almost certainly call on him to make the difference if Reading find themselves in another sticky spot with time running out. McDermott will undoubtedly want his side to take a leaf out of Stoke’s book in terms of modelling themselves as consistent top-flight peformers and knows victory in Staffordshire would push them closer to the magic 40-point mark.
Deadline Day signing Break Shea could be in line for his Stoke debut but Marc Wilson won’t feature despite making his comeback from a broken in a friendly on Tuesday.
Adrian Mariappa, Jobi McAnuff and Garath McCleary will all have their fitness evaluated after playing for Jamaica against Mexico in midweek, while Noel Hunt returns after a two-game absence.
What the managers said…
“There’s been a lot of talk about Begovic. But no-one from the big clubs – Man United, Chelsea, Arsenal – have called me. There was no thought in my mind that we were bringing Butland in just in case Begovic went. We thought Butland was a great opportunity for the club to sign a top young goalkeeper. If United or someone else come in and offer an enormous amount of money for Begovic we’d have to look at it, but I haven’t brought Butland in because of that.” Tony Pulis insists Asmir Begovic has a future at Stoke despite the signing of Jack Butland (The Sentinel)
Reading haven’t tasted defeat against Stoke in their last six league meetings and expect the net to ripple at the Britannia Stadium with the Royal’s last five Premier League games seeing at least three goals scored.
Prediction: Stoke City 1-0 Reading