Wolverhampton Wanderers v Stoke City – Match Preview

Stoke go in hunt of a fourth successive win when they travel to relegation candidates Wolves who are desperate to clamber away from danger over the festive period.

Mick McCarthy’s men lie just two points above the drop zone after a run of just two wins in their last 12 Premier League games. Nine of those fixtures have ended in defeat with their latest coming against Manchester United at Old Trafford last Saturday. Wanderers were turned over by Sir Alex Ferguson’s side with McCarthy’s tactical gamble failing to pay dividends against the champions. It’s been yet another season of struggle at Molineux with the former Republic of Ireland manager criticised by supporters for his team selection and playing system. A promising start to the campaign, where they took seven points from a possible nine, is a distant memory now with Wolves gathering the same amount of points in their next 12. It’s left them fighting for their position in the top flight once again with conceding goals arguably their biggest problem. Finding the net was also a problem although the return of Steven Fletcher has remedied that to a degree. Stopping them going in at the wrong end is now the main issue with summer signing and captain Roger Johnson failing to live up to his inflated price tag. The former Birmingham defender has seen his bright start to life at Wanderers evaporate in a matter of months with his recent performances bordering on mediocre. Coming up against a Stoke side renowned for their strength in the air will undoubtedly provide a stiff test for McCarthy’s back four. He’ll need to get them ready for an aerial assault and make sure they are prepared to take a few hits in the quest for victory.

Out battling the Potters might be made a touch easier with Tony Pulis’ having to travel to Turkey to take on Besiktas in the Europa League on Wednesday night. However confidence is high at the Britannia Stadium following a run of three wins on the spin with the latest coming against title chasing Tottenham last Sunday. Despite Spurs’ sitting comfortably in the top four on the back of a long unbeaten run it was the Potters who came out on top with their hustle and harry game plan proving too much for Harry Redknapp’s high flyers with Matthew Etherington providing both goals. A run of four consecutive losses looked like it would derail their season as they plunged towards the relegation zone at an alarming rate. Recent performances have improved which has coincided from their mini-break from European competition. Whilst they’ve performed well in their debut campaign on the continent Pulis squad has struggled to cope with the physical toll of playing two games per week along with the energy sapping travel commitments. The trip to Wolves on Saturday will be their third game in six days and will provide a real test of endurance for the players and Pulis himself. The Stoke boss will have to engage in some delicate squad rotation over the next couple of days to ensure his squad is kept fresh and alert. He will have to play into Wanderers’ weaknesses on Saturday and use his side’s strength in the air as opposed to the usual high tempo closing down game that has proved so effective in the last few years. Playing the game at their own pace will undoubtedly provide the route to three points in the Midlands.

Wolves – 17th

Last Five: Lost 4-1 v Manchester United (A), Won 2-1 v Sunderland (H), Lost 3-0 v Chelsea (A), Lost 2-1 v Everton (A)Won 3-1 v Wigan (H)

Potential Starting X11: 1. W. Hennessey 23. R. Zubar 14. R. Johnson [C] 16. C. Berra 3. G Elokobi 11. S. Ward  8. K. Henry 20. N. Milijas 17. M. Jarvis 29. K. Doyle 10. S. Fletcher*

Injury News: Jody Craddock and David Edwards are the only injury worries for Wolves this weekend.

Key Player: Steven Fletcher

Despite only coming back from injury a few weeks ago the Scottish striker has once again become an integral part of the Wolves side with three goals in two games. His latest strike came at Old Trafford last week with his industrious display giving the United back four a few things to think about. More of the same will be expected against Stoke at Molineux on Saturday.

Match Fact: Their record against Stoke in the Premier League isn’t the best with just one win in their four meetings since winning promotion in 2008.

Stoke – 8th

Last Five: Won 2-1 v Tottenham (H), Won 1-0 v Everton (A), Won 3-1 v Blackburn (H), Lost 3-2 v QPR (H) Lost 5-0 v Bolton (A), Lost 3-1 v Newcastle (H)

Potential Starting X11: 29. T. Sorensen 12. M. Wilson 17. R. Shawcross [C] 4. Robert Huth 39. J. Woodgate 30. R. Shotton 40. W. Palacios 6. G. Whelan 24. M. Etherington 19. J. Walters 25. P. Crouch*

Injury News: Stoke will be without full back Andy Wilkinson with a back injury ruling him out of the trip to the Midlands.

Key Player: Matthew Etherington

He’s been Stokes Mr Consistent ever since joining from West Ham two years ago and he proved his top flight credentials with a superb performance against former club Tottenham. Etherington was a constant menace last Sunday and deservedly bagged two goals to secure their the Potters third win in a row. Another display like that and Pulis’ side will undoubtedly be celebrating yet another victory.

Match Fact: Stokes 4-2 win at Molineux in 2008 was their first since 1995  – a run of six games without victory in the Midlands.

Last Time at Molineux

Premier League 14 August 2010

Wolves 2-1 Stoke

Fletcher (39) Jones (37)

Faye (55)

Attendance: 27,850

PREDICTION

Wolves are sliding fast and their defeat at Old Trafford last week saw them drop to fourth bottom and just two points above the drop zone. Stoke are going in the opposite direction having won three in a row and now sit just outside of the Europa League places and will be determined to make that four victories on the bounce when they travel to face a beleaguered Wanderers side desperate to pull themselves away from danger.

Score 1-1