After ending 2012 just four points shy of European qualification the second half of the season looked promising for Stoke. But since the turn of the year they’ve managed to put four points on the board, putting their hopes of a top half finish in jeopardy. To say Tony Pulis’ side are out of sorts would be an understatement. Last week’s defeat at Newcastle, where they led with 20 minutes to go before conceding a last minute winner, summed up their current. Home advantage doesn’t count for much nowadays either with the Britannia Stadium becoming steadily more impregnable than it used to be. For that Pulis has come in for some harsh criticism from supporters. But if Stoke are to burrow out of this rut the fans need to get behind their manager.
It’s the complete polar opposite for Steve Clarke as he bids to guide West Brom closer to the top-six, which is a position their opponents will look at with green eyed envy. The Baggies have overcome a slight blip in the formative days of 2013 to stay well in the hunt for Europa League qualification and moved to within five points of fifth with victory over Swansea last week. In fact they haven’t budged from the top-half of the table all season. If i’m being picky the thing they could improve on is their away record having won just four times in 14 on the road and twice since November. But with confidence brimming and Romelu Lukaku leading the line there is no reason to believe they can’t accomplish that.
Stoke could be without Matthew Etherington for a third successive game, while Cameron Jerome (knee) is unlikely to feature. Robert Huth completes a ban.
Shane Long (ankle) remains a doubt for West Brom as does Steven Reid who is struggling with a groin injury.
What the managers said…
“If you’re given steak and chips every day, steak and chips becomes the norm. Fans’ expectations are growing all the time. It’s not just this club, that’s the way the world’s going. But it’s part of our life and our world – you’re either flavour of the month or you’re not. There always comes a time when it’s right for everyone to go but I don’t think it’s that at the moment. You can’t get rid of me that easily yet! Every manager won’t receive full recognition until he leaves. They look at Sir Alf Ramsey now as probably the best England manager ever. But at the time he was doing the job, even he was getting dog’s abuse.” Tony Pulis says he won’t be hounded out of Stoke (The Sun)
“Within the team everybody dropped towards the end of December and in January for some reason. It’s something we’re still looking at and assessing to find out why. I’m trying to forget about January for now. I’ve got the medical staff looking at it now to see if they can dig anything up. I’ve got the fitness coach seeing if he can pick up anything from the data that month, just to see if there’s anything we can tie it down to. We’ll try to address it next season. We’ll find out how good all these university graduates are and see if they can find the pattern for me.” Steve Clarke admits West Brom’s New Year struggles continue to weigh heavy on him (Sporting Life)
Pre-Match Statistic: Stoke and West Brom’s first meeting was in FA Cup fifth round in 1888 before the Football League started. Albion triumphed 4-1.
Prediction: Stoke City 2-2 West Bromwich Albion
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