One point from 15 available and a solitary win in 12 games. Those are the cold hard facts that paint a picture as to why Stoke are now involved in a fight to conserve their Premier League existence. It’s been an alarming plummet for the Potters who sat comfortably in mid-table pondering an assault on the top-six when the clock ticked into 2013. Now it’s the bottom three Tony Pulis and his squad desperately scrapping to stay clear of and improvement is needed if they’re to ensure they remain a top-flight club. The visit of Aston Villa kicks off an April schedule that pits them against three teams in the immediate vicinity. Two wins should be enough to guarantee their safety and a return to their brutal, intimidating persona would make the two wins required all the more routine.
Villa, on the other hand, are battling to escape the relegation zone and can take heart from a commendable performance in the home defeat to Liverpool last Sunday. A run of two consecutive wins prior to that had given Paul Lambert hope of lifting his side away from danger and victory this week would lift them to within a point of Stoke. Interestingly the Potters were the last team who failed to score against Villa, who’ve failed to record a clean sheet in 20 games. With the hosts struggling to find the net and Christian Benteke and Andreas Weinmann being joined by Gabriel Agbonlahor in the goal scoring stakes it could be a defining day at ‘fortress’ Britannia.
Matthew Etherington is the only doubt for Stoke boss Tony Pulis as he receives treatment for groin and back problems.
Aston Villa may have to do without Ciaran Clark for a second game running if he doesn’t recover from a shoulder injury picked up on international duty for the Republic of Ireland. Brett Holman (hamstring) is available to manager Paul Lambert
What the managers said…
“People say this is the crunch game, but we have seven games left to get six points to reach 40. I’m working my socks off to make sure the team don’t feel any pressure. We are at home and the players realise that if they put in a hard-working shift, then they will have the backing of 25,000 people. There can be negativity out there in the press, on the telly and on the radio, but we have to deal with that. It’s part of the job and certainly for the players who have to have the confidence to go out there on the pitch and perform.” Tony Pulis says he is ‘working his socks off’ to alleviate the pressure on his Stoke squad (ESPN)
“You have to keep that with them and try to keep them pretty quiet. They’ll go there and try and win and try and do what we’ve been doing.I don’t think the crowd will faze us but it will certainly help us if we can get the crowd going against their own team.I had a feeling the players would be able to handle it. OK, we’ve been turned over in certain games, like we were at Chelsea.But, over the course of it, I knew they wouldn’t buckle going to big grounds and crowds and things like that. I just had a belief that they would go and compete with teams.” Paul Lambert wants his Aston Villa side to play on Stoke’s nerves (Express and Star)
Pre-Match Statistic: Stoke have managed just 94 shots on target this season. A Premier League low they share with Reading.
Prediction: Stoke City 1-1 Aston Villa